To celebrate their fifty year wedding anniversary, Skip and Linda Bosley follow the Lewis and Clark trail, get their kicks on Route 66, and rediscover the American West.
California Here We Come
By Skip Bosley
We had crossed the continent four times previously before setting off on a trip to celebrate the fifty year anniversary of our wedding. In all of our earlier trips we were reminded of the many strong and adventurous souls that had crossed long before us; in wagons, on horseback, and afoot.
For our first cross-country truck camper adventure in 2005, we followed the trail of Lewis and Clark. Along the way we kept track of the places and peoples Lewis and Clark discovered and met. It was the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the West, a project commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson. There were many commemorative activities celebrating Lewis and Clark as we crossed on route to Alaska. It was fun and educational to keep track of that historic ramble.
Rock and Roll Queens have electric dreams when seeing the Route 66 scenes.
On this, our anniversary commemoration, we chose a southern path. The theme, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” rang in our ears as we revisited some of the high spots of the sixties era on this storied route. Along the way, sculptures including old Cadillacs half buried in a field, giant balls of string, and long abandoned tourist traps advertising all sorts of oddities, recalled us to a simpler time of gentle humor and wonder.
Our truck camper, like the Conestoga Wagons of old, is our home on wheels. We’re at home where ever we are. No need to rush along. We try to savor and see the sites that molded our history.
In this time of internet and advanced media, it is like traveling with the complete Library of Congress on board. Any question of history just needs a keystroke to have the answer. All local events are chronicled on the radio and television as we pass through. Our satellite radio, with its local conditions stations and vast catalog of topics, has also been very useful.
Skip’s Tip #1: We fitted a magnetic satellite antenna under the bug deflector across the front of our truck’s hood to get it clear of the camper overhang of the cab.
Above: Marine VHF antenna
We also fitted a Wilson trucker cell phone antenna with an adapter pigtail that fits our broad band internet device to increase our internet range.
Above: Wilson trucker cell phone antenna
We have a marine VHF antenna fitted in the hood seam that gives an excellent signal reception of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather channels which are on our CB radio. We rarely use the CB for traffic information, particularly when our granddaughter is aboard due to the very stupid language from some truckers. For the most part, when we have asked for information on the CB, we have been quickly rewarded with good data.
Above: Weather station inside the camper
In early May of 2009, we began our westward trek by heading southwest and onto the Skyline Drive in Virginia. The route joins the Blue Ridge Parkway combining more than six hundred miles of majestic views as it winds along the ridge tops. We could have easily spent a month along this beautiful drive.
As we drove into Tennessee and the entrance of Smoky Mountain National Park, the weather changed and sheets of rain doused our windshield. To escape the torrents, we drove on to I-40 West. To date, we have yet to explore Smoky Mountain National Park, but it is high on the bucket list. The Interstate travel allowed us to catch up on our schedule. We had been invited to a gathering at a friend’s place in Prescott, Arizona and it was time to make tracks.
The Walmart Road Atlas gave us locations and zip codes (for satellite TV aiming) of Walmarts as we crossed Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico lickety-split. We stopped around 4:00pm at a Walmart in New Mexico and parked under the mercury vapor lights. To our surprise and delight, we have discovered that Walmart’s mercury vapor lights charge our batteries through the solar panels at night.
A glass of wine, dinner, some television news, early to bed, early to rise, and then out on the highway west before the rush. We had been cautioned that the Texas Highway Patrol might stop us with our front cooler rack and rear porch, but we passed along the Texas Panhandle with no problems. A meal at a Texas Roadhouse that evening was one of the best meals on that trip. Of course we prefer to prepare most of our meals in our camper. One of our most enjoyable activities is cooking on board, shopping for local treats, and saving a few bucks.
As we continued to drive the highways west, we passed lots of large blades being hauled by oversized tractor trailers. Crossing into California, it was clear that this was the destination for all of the giant propellers. We had rolled into the land of wind farms.
We passed our first California night in the Mojave National Reserve. For Easterners who were raised in a marine environment, we were out of our element in the desert.
On the ocean, way out to sea, when the atmosphere is just right, the stars and planets take on a depth; a three dimensional aspect. You seem to be able to see which of the heavenly bodies are closer or farther away. That night, in the vastness of the Mojave Desert, we had the same depth of vision. Vast describes the desert so well; it goes on and on. Our GPS was lost, not programmed for this vastness. Google Earth showed us the way out.
Above: GPS software from Delorme on the laptop
Skip’s Tip #2: We utilize a GPS program from Delorme of Maine which operates on our laptop. With a Jotto Desk mounted between the front seats, we have a large screen to better see the details. Also, the shotgun passenger is able to use the broadband device for internet work. The Wilson truckers cell phone antenna, with a suitable pigtail, helps extend and strengthen the signal, even on the go.
Above: Skip and Linda’s charging station
Beneath a cigar type twelve volt receptacle in the truck camper is a little three sided wooden box that we use as a charging station. The box can be found at many RV suppliers and is attached with double-sided tape. It helps to keep the cell phones charged and in one place. I also keep the spray bottle and lens cloth for glasses in the box. We fitted little hangers on the box with the matching hold buttons fixed to the phones.
We pulled into the Lance Factory in Lancaster, California in the afternoon. We had a few items to touch up on our Lance 1121, which were handled promptly. We were off shortly thereafter to take Linda to see one of my favorite memories from younger days, Yosemite Valley.
When I was thirteen, I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle due to an illness at home. My Aunt Jean, who was indefatigable, took my two little cousins and me to spend a week tent camping in the Yosemite Valley.
Early in the morning, I remember the Rangers would build a hardwood fire at Glacier Point, high above the valley floor, and stoke it all day. Just after sunset a bugler, in the valley below, would play Taps, and then the Rangers pushed the glowing coals off the sheer cliff, creating a “Fire Fall”. It was unforgettable, albeit dangerous as could be. Shortly after our visit, the Fire Fall was abandoned as a serious fire hazard.
Above: Looking down at the valley in Yosemite National Park
Skip’s Tip #3: The camping sites at Yosemite National Park were all reserved well in advance. We were told that we should get to the Reservations Building by the campground, before 7:00am, with a thermos of coffee, some reading material, and a chair to wait in line. We did that several times throughout the summer and always got a site for at least a few days. There is an excellent store in Yosemite with souvenirs and a large food market. I bought some fresh dressed trout that was delicious.
Once we had attained a campsite for the evening, we drove the rig out of the valley and up the very challenging road to Glacier Point. The view from Glacier Point is incredible. I have seen nothing anywhere that compares.
The drive up is harrowing, winding, shoulder-less, mountain roads sans guardrails. It tested our determination. As we congratulated ourselves, that at our advanced ages, we had persevered to complete this arduous climb, a little conversion van pulled into the lot behind us.
Above: Pete and Nancy with Skip, Linda, and Marley
Out of the van stepped Pete and Nancy with a German Shepherd. Pete, we were to learn, was ninety-four, and Nancy was somewhat younger. Ten years before, Pete had climbed, along a cable, to the top of Half Dome. We were humbled by their will and enthusiasm.
Pete and Nancy have been worldly adventurers forever, and are experts on Yosemite lore. We passed the day as they delighted us with tales of daring and adventures passed. They are the proof of the adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it!” To this day we are still in contact, via email. To say that they are inspirational is to short cut their beings. We hope to come just close to the spirit shown to us by these, also, “Laughing Fellow Rovers!”
As we traveled toward the San Francisco Bay area, we began to look for a place to spend the night. A small red lettered sign on the side of I-680 North bound announced, “Mount Diablo State Park” as the next exit. We turned off the highway and followed signage through a pretty community of gardens, glades, and rustic California style homes in leafy enclaves.
The road narrowed, became very windy, much like the road to Glacier Point, but more treacherous. We climbed and twisted, barely able to negotiate with the cooler rack in front and the porch at the rear of our truck camper. Just a few inches more in overall length and we would have been unable to continue.
Suddenly, there was a little gate house with a Ranger lady who looked at us as though we were Martians. She said, “How did you ever get that thing up to here? Well, never mind. You can’t turn around, but when you get to the top, you will not be able to fit into any of the campsites. You may spend the night in the parking lot. When you leave in the morning, take the northern road, it will be much better.”
We topped out just before dusk. The parking lot, which was the absolute peak of Mount Diablo at 3,849 feet, was empty. The views were almost unbelievable! To the west was San Francisco, the Bay, Seal Rocks, and the bridges. To the east we could clearly see Half Dome in Yosemite Valley that we had left that morning. It was a rare for the Bay area to have a crystal clear evening. As the sun set in the Pacific, a full moon rose in the eastern sky, only partially dimming the view.
Above: Camping at Mount Diablo. Click to enlarge.
The lights of the surrounding towns sparkled; the several vast bridges including the Golden Gate appeared as necklaces of lights. We sat on the porch for an hour transfixed by this panorama, which could not be duplicated in any other geographical region. Even when we were abed, we kept peeking out the windows, unwilling to quit this beauty.
In the morning we were awakened by chatter all around the truck camper. There were many bicycles and riders around us. Helmets and goggles on everyone, they were curious about our rig and our Maryland license plates.
They had all come up the northern road in a big flatbed truck and were about to descend Mount Diablo at what must have been great speed. And off they went southernly, retracing our path, as we headed north toward the Sonoma Valley and wine country. It was another unplanned and thoroughly enjoyable interlude of truck camper adventure.
Springtime in Napa Valley is lush, verdant green, and perfectly groomed, with row after row of wine grapes following the contours of the ridges. Vineyards are all along either side of the roads, on the slopes, valleys, everywhere, each with its own distinctive architecture. There is a dearth of camping or boondocking opportunities in this valley of vino. Just about every vineyard has a lovely Inn or B&B at prices way beyond our budget.
From a tourist info kiosk, we learned of the Veterans Home in Yountville, on the mainline, Route 12. Although I am, it was not required to be a veteran to use the RV campsite for around $20 per night including full hookups. We stayed there on several occasions.
While camping in Yountville, someone raved about the food at the Rutherford Grill just north of our camping spot. If you are in the neighborhood, try it! The chicken sandwich was the best we had ever eaten. Although I am by no means a connoisseur of wines, preferring the markdown vintages, the barmaid suggested and gave me a glass of “The Prisoner”. It was so good I almost considered buying a $50 bottle. Almost!
Skip’s Tip #4: Don’t be shy! Ask for information on places to stay, eat, and visualize. There is no substitute for local knowledge. Many of our most enjoyable moments have come from suggestions from folks we have met along the byways.
The only places we stay clear of are the Rest Stops, particularly in the Eastern areas. In some states, Washington State being one, the rest stops have water and dump stations, which we have used, but not for overnighting.
Remember the mantra of the devout boondockers, “It is better to beg forgiveness, than to ask permission.” All along the coastal highway, Route 1 in California, we spent night after night in the pull-offs, our camper slide-out extended out over the cliff, the rocky Pacific shore line hundreds of feet below.
Every so often we would spring for a night in a California State Park right on the beach with a senior pass we acquired from a California State Park Office. The site fees were discounted, and very reasonable. We were able to dump and take on water at these parks.
From the Napa Valley, we steered west toward and then along the coastal road. It is always cool and breezy in the marine layer along the beaches while just a few miles inland it is sweltering. There are fishing villages, tourist accommodations, and really spectacular scenes of wildness all on the rock strewn beaches.
The road changes elevation rapidly as you travel along. You are at water level, and then quickly rise into hilly conditions with long views up and down the coast. In the low spots, tsunami (tidal wave) warnings were posted everywhere, which caused us to stop overnight only on the high ground, whenever possible.
Above: Linda and Marley in Redwood National Park
North of Eureka, we entered Redwood National Park, a coastal stand of giant trees that have lived for thousands of years. When building the road a huge tree was felled and the rings were dated and marked with various historical events.
Above: Redwood National Park
There is nothing more humbling and place putting than leaning on a living creature more than a thousand years old. Talk about feeling small!
Above: Linda and Marley at Crater Lake
After crossing the Oregon Border, we turned east and climbed up to the rim of Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake looked just like all the pictures.
In mid-June, the ground was snow covered and the park was crowded with people. There were very large, almost cartoon sized mosquitos. I envisioned the mosquitos wearing Eskimo parkas, goggles, and World War I pilot hats.
We paused briefly at Crater Lake and headed south back into the rugged Shasta Trinity National Forest of Northern California.
Along the Savage River we came upon a small eatery that had very large and tempting berry pies. We could not escape their lure. The pie lasted for days, and probably contained ten or more pounds of sugar. It was captivating.
Above: Shasta Trinity National Forest
High in the mountains we discovered a primitive campground along what appeared to be a potentially productive trout stream. With only a small cash box for the fee at the entrance, along with instructions for having an axe and shovel, we were the only campers there. We set up the truck camper to spend a few days in solitude. It was perfect. Our dog, Marley, dashed up and down, along, and in and out of the stream. We had been hard traveling for days and this was a welcome respite.
Above: Shasta Trinity National Forest primitive campground
That evening I gathered some firewood and got a fire started. We positioned our chairs to enjoy some quiet time at the fireside. Suddenly Linda turned very pale and became unconscious. She slumped in her chair. She was completely out.
I quickly checked her heart and breathing. She was doing both. I began to put her on the ground in case I needed to start CPR. She slowly came to. She was weak, and we were both shaken. The cell phones had no signal. I got Linda into the truck cab, doused the fire thoroughly, raised the jacks, set the tie-downs, and got underway. We had no clue as to where we could find help. After a few miles some bars appeared on the cell phone. I asked Linda if she was willing to be air lifted if I could connect with 911 and get a chopper in.
“Only if you’re flying the plane”, she replied.
As we descended the mountain, I kept asking her to answer questions. Finally I saw a sign, “Ranger station one mile”. Just as we approached the Ranger station another sign with an arrow pointing left, “Emergency Medical Clinic”.
They were able to determine that she did not have a coronary event, or stroke. They felt she was experiencing the effects of altitude in combination with dehydration. After an infusion of fluids, we were headed back down toward civilization. Good Joss, Good Karma, Good Lord, we lucked out again! My dogma got run over by my Karma, and all’s well that ends well!
Skip’s Tip #5: Take a course on CPR and keep a CPR instruction sheet handy. We have one of the magnetic sheets on the range hood. Also have a current first aid kit handy, and replace the inventory as needed. As we tend to spend time in remote spots, we have to be willing to act if necessary. Being scared is permitted. Being paralyzed by fear is not. If affordable, a portable defibrillator would be a good addition to our kit. It’s on our wish list.
After the scare on the mountain, in Weed, California we found a spot in the beautiful drive-thru Living Memorial Sculpture Garden, with snow covered Mount Shasta off in the distance, to spend the night. Only in California! There were lovely renderings. It is a place to remember, and a place to mend that is dedicated to veterans of all conflicts.
It was on Thursday morning when Linda said, “You’d like to go to see the NASCAR road race at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma this weekend, right? Get them on the cell phone. Let’s see what’s happening.”
To Dave, at the race track, I said, “We’re old Nascar fans from back east, and wonder if you have a place inside the course where we can watch from our RV?”
Above: The NASCAR race view from on top of the camper
Dave replied, “Usually we are sold out, but because of the economy we’ve got some sites at the carousel, in the middle of the course. Can you get on the roof of your RV? You’ll see everything, almost”.
“Yes, we can. What will it run?” I asked.
“For the whole weekend three thousand”, came his reply.
“That is so far out of our budget, it’s not possible. Let me tell you something. When I was in the Air Force in 1956, a guy named Fred helped me build a dragster, he went on to become a Nascar champ. If you had told us that you were going to be so successful that you could get three grand rent for a patch of dirt, we’d a never believed it.”
“Skip, you’re a veteran?” he asked. “Can you be here Saturday afternoon? When you get to the main entrance say ‘Dave’ and they’ll send you up.”
Above: Camping next to the race course
When we met Dave, he set us up with a site surrounded by big Class As, along with two tickets in the stands at the finish line if we got tired sitting on the roof.
“What’s the cost?” I asked.
“It’s complimentary. Nascar thanks you for your service!”
Above: Linda and Marley at Infineon
It was wonderful. We particularly like the road courses and Infineon is one of the best.
During the event, we were questioned by some of the owners of the big motorhomes around us. They asked, “I bet you get pretty good mileage?” and, “How did you get your wife to go for it?” and, “You can park anywhere, right?”
Above: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
On Monday we left the race course south bound, across the Golden Gate Bridge, in clear weather. It is one of the most amazing bridge crossings to be had. Back in San Francisco, after many years, we turned west and became reacquainted with the fabulous Golden Gate Park.
We passed by the Japanese Tea House, through the groomed and well-tended gardens, in one of the world’s finest city parks. It was not a possible boondock opportunity. We drove to the beach, turned right past the Seal Rocks, and turned up towards the Veteran’s Center.
Above: Parking lot of the USS San Francisco Memorial
At the entrance to the USS San Francisco Memorial, we turned in and drove up to the parking lot. The sun was beginning to touch the horizon and the view from the parking lot was out onto the Pacific and into the San Francisco Bay to the Golden Gate and beyond. As we came thru the gate, a sign read, “The gate will be locked at 8pm”. We parked, put up the satellite, slid out the slide-out and settled down. Around midnight a guard came by carefully avoiding shining his flashlight at us. We were undisturbed. This was our boondock triumph! The gate was re-opened at 7:00am, and we began to carry forth on one of the premier drives in the world, Big Sur.
Skip’s Tip #6: On a trip of this duration, we must keep track of the periodic maintenance necessary for our truck and camper. I have always changed the oil in the diesel. It is a good thing to crawl underneath and see what’s going on. From Walmart, I get the oil and a large plastic tank that will hold the fifteen quarts. I change the lube oil in the generator as well.
Keeping track of tire pressure is a must do. We carry a 110 volt air compressor capable of 110 psi to inflate the 19.5” “H” rated delivery truck tires we have to use to handle the weight of our rig. Some spare fluids to top off with are carried, along with adhesives, caulk, tools, and some spare parts. We keep a log showing mileage and hours between service. Fumoto valves are fitted on the oil drains for ease of operation.
California Highway 1, the Coastal Highway, south of San Francisco, is, in my experience, one of the most interesting and beautiful drives to be found. Dramatic cliffs give way to secluded beaches. Narrow high bridges carry across inlets from the Pacific Ocean. Streams, choked with water cress, flow through redwood-covered mountains.
Above: Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Along the way we chose a small, quaint restaurant to have a rare lunch. We were treated to delicious local seafood and stories of the events that created this unique area. We paused at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Lighthouses have played an important part in our previous travels. We never pass one without stopping and looking around, imaging the many mariners, whose spirits were so lifted, when they finally spotted the light.
Above: Castonoa Resort Campground
As we proceeded south, the Castonoa Resort Campground sign drew us in. We had never before considered staying in a “Fancy” RV park. The lady in the office offered us a senior discount. Costanoa was a very well kept, planned, and managed. Although it was more expensive than we had previously ever spent, the luxurious surroundings were relaxing and comfortable, with lots of entertaining features.
Castonoa Resort Campground would be a must when we toured California with our granddaughter. Along with a very well turned out restaurant, there was an almost life-sized chess set, set out on the lawn. There were stables, raised platforms on which to pitch tents, and beautifully maintained gardens. After dark, sounds that sounded like fox hounds in a Maryland fox hunt, were actually a large herd of elephant seals on the beach. At sun up we departed.
We stopped for the night in Santa Cruz, on the northern tip of Monterey Bay. We had been directed to a California State Park right on the beach, with the warning it was almost always booked in advance.
Once again, the “Zen Technique” succeeded. Before arriving at a location, we visualize, in our mind’s eye, a camping site, a parking place, anything which may be difficult to achieve. We have almost always achieved our goals, no pressure, no sadness nor sense of loss, just positive feelings, grateful for our always good fortune.
The Rangers at the Sea Cliffs State Beach went out of their way to find us a site that was a cancelled reservation. They apologized that it was without electrical hook-ups. In the morning they came by to tell us that we could move to another site with hook-ups. We stayed for a week. We met local folks who took us on wine tours and into the hills and to a very neat car show. Our Santa Cruz interlude was another unplanned event that we remember very fondly.
After rounding Monterey Bay, we entered the storied Big Sur. South from Carmel, the road, carved from the Santa Lucia Mountains, is a dramatic meeting of land and sea that extends for ninety miles to San Simeon (Hearst Castle). Off shore navigation is treacherous, a string of lighthouses creating a wall of light to prevent mariners from disaster on the rock strewn shore.
Words are inadequate to describe the beauty and natural grandeur of this rugged landscape. For those, like us, who are driven to drive on remote and remarkable routes, this is penultimate, the pinnacle of passages. We spent three days here. At night we stopped in pull-offs, our slide-out, once again extending over the precipice. We were never bothered or questioned.
Above: Big Sur, California
Only smaller RVs and trailers are able to negotiate the twists and turns. There are several California State Parks along the way that restrict overall lengths. Truck campers are very comfortable in this environment. Although we didn’t avail ourselves of the State Parks, we did look in on two that were very well planned and located. I recommend that Big Sur goes to the top of the bucket list of all wanderers, along with Yosemite Valley.
Above: Elephant seals along the coast
After passing San Simeon, we came upon a beach covered with elephant seals, sunning and cavorting in the surf. They are hefty critters!
Above: Morrow Rock Campground
That afternoon we found a State Park on the beach overseeing Morrow Rock, a very large sheer sided off-shore island.
This is the ending of our reconnaissance to establish a path of discovery for our granddaughter and her parents who would soon arrive in our Honda CRV. After school closed in mid-June, our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter were driving out to join us. In the morning we turned east, and then north to meet them in the Napa Valley, to retrace this excellent adventure!
Skip’s Tip #7: A quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. Author. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
This has been our mantra. When we were younger, we had the training and the means to sail off to adventure. After twenty-three years of travel under sail, we were no longer physically competent to travel by sea. Our truck camper has been a perfect substitute. For those who lust for discovery, do it! Now! Regrets are for the timid.