The frigid air seared our lungs as we waited at the shopping center parking lot in Sedona, AZ. Then our ride, Red Rock Hot Air Balloon Co., arrived to take us on an unforgettable experience. We drove out to the desert before sunrise. The balloon crew worked feverishly to get the massive balloon inflated. Then we climbed in. Before we knew it we were rising above the desert floor. Floating through the red rocks watching the sun pierce the morning sky and cascading its brilliant light over the land was pure joy. For a moment our pilot's voice faded and even though the basket was full, it felt like we were all alone drifting over this magnificent landscape. Then some one yelled, Deer!" Thrust back into reality, we looked down to the ground to see a family of deer darting through the trees. The warmth from the flames would blast heat down on us which helped keep us from freezing. A side benefit. It was quite a thrill when we headed straight for a hill and the wind lifted us over the top. As we ascended over the hill, I imagined that's what a bird must feel like when it uses the wind to go aloft. Mike noticed the spot vehicles on the ground, so we knew our ride would soon be over. The ground was coming close to early. We didn't want it to end. The flight lasted just over an hour but it seemed like minutes. With our feet on the ground, new friends, and a Champagne toast we felt thankful for having this experience.
We made a quick stop at Painted Rock Petroglyphs Site. We couldn't drive from Coronado, CA to Sedona,AZ in one day so this is a great stop over. The Petroglyphs are right next to the campground. The first night we had a run in with some hungry fox. Lyra's Travels tells the story the best. The next day we made a quick trip into Gila Bend for supplies. We came back with firewood. It's a sleepy little town. No connections, no cell, no internet so we played Scrabble a lot. We drove through the desert. Literally! Having the Jeep while doing this is so much fun. We headed down a trail which we thought was part of the BLM. There wasn't a posted sign until we left using another exit. Oooops! Then we drove to the dam. Access denied! If you need a cheap place to stay for the night, Painted Rock is your place. Fantastic night sky! So many stars.
You know, how you know something is going to be really bad but you do it anyway. Well, that's what we did. We left Pismo Beach and headed for Coronado, CA on Dec. 23rd. We took HWY 101 to I 405 straight through LA during holiday rush hour traffic. Going down the 405 was the longest scariest three hours of our lives. Mike cranked up the music to drown out my gasps. I spent most of my time praying. With our nerves frayed and knowing we wouldn't get to Silver Strand State Park before they locked the gates, I began calling RV parks south of LA. Oceanside RV park saved the day. They had one pull through site left. We took it. We will never go through LA again! The next morning, Christmas Eve, we felt a lot better and quickly packed up for Coronado.
Pulling into Silver Strand State Park lifted a weight off our shoulders. I booked a site on the last row because there wouldn't be anyone behind us and it gave us extra space. Lyra liked the sand behind our rig. She still is terrified of the ocean. With the sand dune blocking her view of the waves she loved it. Christmas morning we rode our bikes through the tunnel under HWY 75 to the San Diego Bay and down the strand. The wind was brutal so we decided not to go all the way to Coronado. Mike put on his swim suit and was determined to get in the water. I stayed bundled on the beach.
We spent most of the day after Christmas on the Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego. A fantastic museum. The docents who are all retired military were stationed throughout the ship. They told about specific parts of the carrier like how planes land and take off. Plan on spending at least 4 hours and we suggest doing the bridge guided tour. It's included with admission but the line is a bit long. We were there on a holiday weekend so it might not be as bad on a regular day.
Our last mission on our Coastal Trip was the Mission San Diego. Walking into the mission church admiring the hand painted ceilings and decorative flower vines framing the windows is like stepping into another time. For hundreds of years this place was a stop for many travelers and the center for learning.
Our stay ended with a walk around the famous Hotel Coronado. The historic hotel was bustling with holiday guests and visitors. They even had an ice rink by the beach. Coronado has been a wonderful place to spend Christmas since we couldn't be with our family this year.
With Monterey Bay in our review window we set out for next destination, Pismo Beach. We rolled into Pismo Coast Village RV park in early afternoon. It's close to the ocean but the park is crowded. Not far down the road is Oceano beach where we can take the Jeep for a little spin in the sand. Lyra seemed to like the dunes as long as we were far away for the ocean's roaring waves. After kicking up some sand, we picnicked by the ocean's edge watching the waves roll in.
As the much needed rain fell, we set out for the town of San Louis Obispo. The mission of San Louis Obispo was founded in 1771 and it is still in active use today. The mission is beautifully restored with flourishing gardens in the courtyard.
After hearing Paso Robles makes the best wine in the region, we journeyed north in search of the delectable juice. Upon reaching the town we made a quick stop at Firestone brewery for delicious smoked porter. With over 200 wineries to choose from, we free styled our way down Highway 46 aka the vineyard drive. The first stop was a castle looking winery known as Tooth and Nail. They are known for their pinot noir wine. We enjoyed their cabernet sauvignon so much we took one with us. We continued down the road to Red Soles which also makes brandy. With a welcome sign that reads 'Come for the wine; Stay for the spirits' we couldn't resist. We walked away with a bottle of their California Hooch. Meandering down the country road with rolling hills of vines, we spotted Zin Alley. That's where we met Frank. While standing in his small barrel room in front of a well used bar, the locals told stories about how Frank became legendary in these parts. He was born with wine in his blood. He makes some of the best zin. We couldn't leave without one of his tasty zinfandels. With only about half an hour before the wineries closed we found Shale Oak winery. They are a sustainable winery and their wine tasting room was made from all recycled wood and sustainable materials. Paso Robles wineries are worth the stop. We ended the day with dinner at Cracked Crab where they serve fresh seafood in a bucket. Our next destination is San Diego for Christmas.
Our story continues with the Great California Coastal trip. We rolled into the sleepy coastal town of Moss Landing on Dec. 16th. One of our missions on this trip is to see as many California Missions possible. Moss Landing KOA Express is a good launching site to explore the area from Santa Cruz to Carmel by the Sea. Soon after we set up, we hopped in the Jeep with Lyra and cruised over the marina bridge to the beach. Lyra had never seen the ocean and, boy, was she in for a surprise. Walking Lyra on the beach was like trying to put a two year old to bed. Not happening! A Local walked up to us with a big smile on his face. "Well, I've never seen a cat on this beach in my whole life!" Bam! Instant celebrity! The tale of the cat being walked on the beach will become a legend in this little town.
Watching the sun sink into the Pacific ocean felt like the world around us had melted with it. This is why we do what we do. Phil's Fish Market and Eatery is the Place to go when in town. Live music paired with exceptional ciopinno. Their ciopinno is so good that the Food Network's Bobby Flay did a feature about it.
The next day we worked our way up the coast to Santa Cruz. This was our first time. We drove onto the pier and ate lunch at Stagnaro Bros. restaurant's upper deck. With sweeping views of the bay and a lighthouse on the point, we couldn't have found a better place to enjoy the best seafood in Sana Cruz. By the way, it was my first time driving on a pier. Pretty cool.
We headed over to the Santa Cruz Mission. It was a quaint mission tuck next to the Catholic church. The day was still young so we decided to make the trek to Mission Soledad. It took about an hour of driving but since I was behind the wheel we went for it. We turned off HWY 101 down a roughly paved road through farmland. The little mission was surrounded by fields. We were greeted by two lovely ladies. They were sitting on the veranda knitting and selling lemons. Some day I would love to have their jobs. The mission was built in 1791 but reconstructed in the 1950's. The original mission had be excavated and markers told where the buildings were suppose to be. It always impresses me that these missions were not only spiritual places but an economic hub for travelers throughout California.
With a little light left in the sky we turned down the River Road which is known for its wineries. We stopped at the locally owned winery of Pessagno. I love going off season to places. There was only one other couple tasting and they were locals. Even though we were sharing a tasting she gave us a sample of all the wines on the menu. I am currently drinking their Rose while typing this blog. So delicious! She told us about the River Road wine region and, believe me, I wish I would have written it down. Some of their bold reds are 19%. Mike drove us home.
Our last day in Monterey Bay was spent in Carmel by the Sea. We were on a mission to see the Mission of Carmel. It did not disappoint. It is magnificently restored. If I were to marry Mike again, I would do it at Mission Carmel. It captures the history of its time. So far this is my favorite mission.
The Carmel Valley is known for great wines so of course we had to try some. Our fist stop was Folktale. It looked like a Spanish fairytale winery. We were greeted with Bubbles. Always a good start to any wine tasting. After strolling the grounds we settled in on the setti on their expansive patio area. Our server met up with us and we decided to share a tasting. She was very generous with the samples. The wine is good but with limited space in our rig we passed on buying any. The Carmel Valley Village is host to numerous wine tasting rooms. All the vineyards decided to create one location of tasting rooms since the mountains where the grapes are grown are windy and difficult to traverse. It's great for visitors because you can park and walk to all the wines in the region.
So far this trip has been fantastic. We have seen several missions and tasted some amazing wines. Next is Pismo Beach! More wine, more missions, more beach, more fun to come!
It's been over 15 years since I have been so cold. The nightly temperatures hover around 0 degrees F. The day temperatures reach the mid 20's. We were not prepared for this extreme weather. Our water pipes all froze on the trip here from Napa, CA. We pulled into Iron Horse RV Resort on Nov. 29th. It was dark, so we waited until Monday to worry about the problem. We spent our first full day here scrambling to figure out how to thaw our water pipes. We bought drop lights but that didn't work, then a small heater that worked. Unfortunately, it caused another issue. The kitchen sink hot water pipe began leaking. Water froze immediately as it ran down the outside of the rig. Now we have a huge icicle under our slide. I am grateful that we have tile floors because carpet would have been soaked. This is day 3 out of 13. We woke up to find the electric heated water supply hose froze last night because we forgot to let water drip in a sink. After some adjusting, I was able to get the water to work.
We don't own warm enough winter gear. I, literally, have pain in my toes when I walk outside. Elko doesn't have a store that sells extreme cold weather boots. Really?! My pretty leather gloves are useless. My leather faux fur lined coat is the only thing keeping me from freezing to death.
The only one not effected by the cold is Lyra. She still wants to go for long walks. This is her first snow experience. She doesn't like to walk in it and watching her try to walk on ice is hilarious. She had made a "friend" with a free range cat in the park. They sit under the rig and stare at each other.
We did find time to explore the town and countryside on Monday. We jumped in the Jeep and headed for some snow covered trails. The mountainous landscape is breathtaking.
Mike & Kat
Kat left teaching after 18 years to travel throughout the USA with her husband, Mike, who is an engineer for a Power generation company.