Saturday, August 29, 2009

Deep Blue Waters, Tall Trees, Koncrete Kampgrounds Part 2.

We left the beaches and forests of the northern California coast for the big city life and the promised visit to the happiest place one earth. We kept the kids enticed with a big finale to our camping trip in Disneyland Anaheim, California. We had a day in San Francisco first.
We camped in the KOA in Petaluma, California which was once the center of the chicken egg universe. The hills had been full of chicken farms. Today the Sonoma Valley produces wine. The temperate climate and rolling hills provide conditions exceptional for growing grapes. We approached the Sonoma Valley from the north driving past vineyards in the stretched golden light of the receding sun. The grasses in the late summer were all dry and yellow giving the hills the appearance of piles of golden fur. The landscape held some promise of camping in a beautiful setting. Then we arrived at the KOA.

I won't say too much about camping at the KOA. It was convenient and comfortable but not my idea of camping. It was a resort style campground with an activity tent, a swimming pool, a petting zoo, and a nice playground, but it was right off the interstate. It was not the peaceful serenity of the redwood forest. It was not the wild flower cover fields of the Diamond Lake area where I startled a buck on my early morning walk. It was concrete pads laid out in rows just wide enough to accommodate either a tent or RV.

We arrived at the onset of darkness and set up camp. Traci ran into town to find some supplies and I set up the tents while the kids played at the nearby playground. When Traci returned we made our way to bed. Our neighbors, three feet from our campsite, decided it was time to laugh and giggle. The two young boys were getting more wound as the mother played some counting game, "One, Two, Threeeeee!!!" Giggle laugh giggle... This went on for what seemed to be several hours, looking at my watch it was now midnight and the kids were showing no signs of winding down. Traci told me the next day she witnessed the parents feeding their children S'mores at nine and thereby setting the stage for giddiness and antics well into the late hours of the night. The sounds of giggling children were only compounded by the lamp post at the end of our neighbor's camp site which apparently never turned off. Sleeping was not the best that night.

Traci had made plans to join the tour of San Francisco the day after our torturous night of half sleep. We felt a little vindicated by getting up at six in the morning and making no effort to keep our children quiet. We encouraged, maybe even provoked, a little sibling quarrelling but our kids were too tired to take the bait.

The tour of San Francisco from the KOA was fun and informative. The tour guide drove the bus and narrated every inch of our travels. We saw all of the highlights, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, The Full House houses, a ride on a cable car, Fisherman's Wharf, etc, etc. A film crew was in Chinatown shooting a television show. We passed a sign stating walking past the sign relieved us of our rights to any use of our image in the context of the show then we stopped and watched the shoot. They ran the same activity over again at least four times while we watched, setting up the scene again and restarting.

We made it back to the Koncrete Kampground and the children swam. We spoke with a few of the people from the tour, one a set of great grandparents raising a 9 year old girl. They were from Maine but through the magic of homeschooling had hit the road for the better part of the summer, hitting a wedding en route and soaking up the great western landscape. Great Grandparents. They were impressive.
We also struck it up with a couple from London. They were in the area for the past few weeks in a rented RV, travelling with their two daughters. They had landed in Vegas and drove across the west stopping off at Yosemite. We were later invited to their RV for dinner where we ate some ribs and chicken rubbed down with Maldon salt. We shared our accents and notes from across the Atlantic comparing everything from television to health care. Traci managed to hold up her share of finishing off two bottles of wine. We had a lovely evening.
The next morning was not as lovely. We had to make the trip south to Anaheim and Traci was feeling the effects of the wine. We packed up and hit the road. Shane had to say good bye to his 9 year old great grand daughter friend.

Traci shaped up around the early afternoon and we skirted the busy highways surrounding L.A. landing in our home for the evening, another campground featuring concrete. This was not a KOA but a privately owned RV park just outside the gate of the happiest place on earth. That night we saw the fireworks show from our camp lawn. The children were excited about visiting Walt's vision of paradise.
I'm sure Walt did not envision my grogginess at the early hours of the next morning, this was not a happy occasion. We left the campground with a happy anticipation hanging around the children's heads like halos. We had to find coffee before we entered the park. The search for coffee gave time for the children's excitement and anticipation to smolder and burn bright. They were crazy from the short delays.

Then we were there. We were there the same day every other Anaheim area resident decided to use their last opportunity before school started to use the annual pass they bought at the beginning of summer, when the promise of 12 weeks of vacation from school gave an illusion of every opportunity to visit the theme park, only to find mowing the lawn, running to t-ball games, birthday parties and swim lessons ate up the majority of the days. They now had this day to visit the park and try to reclaim some of the fees they had paid, the same day we had decided to visit.
The theme park delivered on fun. We rode the rides, saw some shows and stood in line. Shane was able to fight Darth Maul in a light sabre duel. The line to see the princesses turned out to be about two hours and forty five minutes so Sophie was unable to visit with them. She settled for having her face painted and later visiting with Tinkerbell. We had a long tiring day of walking and standing broken up by brief exciting rides.
Our trip East to Phoenix was similar to our visit to the happiest place on earth. We started off on the freeway with two hours of parking style traffic, moving at roughly 5 miles per hour. The radio told us there had been an accident on the road we took to get out of town. We pulled off and had a long breakfast. Once we rejoined the freeway traffic had opened up all the way to our new home.

So here we are.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deep Blue Waters, Tall Trees, Koncrete Kampgrounds

We went through Washington after spending two hours in the infamous I-5 traffic through Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. We had packed the mini van tight with travel supplies, tents, sleeping bags, camp mats, a cooler, clothes and peanut butter and jelly. Our plans were to stay in tents, eat mostly from the cooler and see some new parts of the country. We were fifteen miles from the house when out landlord called with news a package had arrived at our doorstep. We U-turned and went back for one truly final look at Puget Sound from the hills of Edmonds. We watched the ferry pull in to the landing as we drove east on Main street.
Our first night was in a hotel just outside of Portland, Oregon. We left a day early and hoped to get closer to the first destination, Crater Lake. The first night in the hotel was going to give the kids a chance to swim in the pool but the stop and stop then go five feet and stop traffic slowed our progress. We pulled into the hotel late Friday night, no swimming just tired kids and frustrated parents. We unloaded, settled into bed and slept through the continental breakfast served in the lobby the next morning. We filled the cooler with fresh ice and had a meal and hit the road. So far we had neither eaten anything from the cooler nor slept in a tent. We had reservations at Diamond Lake six miles north of Crater Lake and there our camping adventure would begin.
We drove down into the camp site and set the tents in a clearing surrounded by wildflowers. Everyone was excited with our new home for the evening. The tents went up quickly without problems. We filled the air mattress for Traci, unrolled the sleeping bags and went down to Crater Lake.
We drove into the park from the north, crossing a field of pumice stone called the pumice desert. When Mount Mazama imploded over 7000 years ago it left a hole in the ground where rain water, ice run-off and snowmelt has been collecting ever since. The cobalt water reflected the walls of the crater in the bright evening sunshine. We drove to the east side of the crater and watched the sunset.

On the east side of the crater I met a guy who reminded me of my brother Tom. He didn't look like Tom. This guy was large with dark hair, not much taller than me. He had been in Portland for a conference, after his conference he found he had a day before his flight back to the east coast. He decided Crater Lake would be a nice place to take a couple of pictures so he rented a car, drove the four hours south to the lake and slept in his car the first night. The evening we met him he was taking photos of the sun setting across the lake. He would spend the night and drive back to Portland to fly out the next day. Before leaving he planned on waking early and taking pictures of the sunrise. It seemed a great effort for a few pictures.

We slept well our first night. That's how I remember it. I woke early and watched the sun rise over Diamond Lake, taking pictures. The rest of the family woke and grumbled a little about the 30-something degree temperatures then we had breakfast, summer sausage and cheese on crackers, pop tarts and some milk to wash it down. The camping had begun with success.
We broke camp and drove back to Crater Lake. The sights over looking the lake were beautiful.
We wanted to get to the majestic sight of the redwood forest. We drove through the rest of Oregon, stopping for a bathroom break and some peanut butter and jelly goodness.

The redwoods were magnificent, big trees with rough craggy bark and huge straight trunks. We drove to the camp site in the middle of the forest. Having these giant trees hovering over the tents was unreal. We had dinner in Orick at a little diner, the only place still open at 7p.m. On the drive to town we saw several Elk chewing grasses near the highway. It was a great place to spend the night, except the bears.
As we entered the camp the forest ranger gave a small lecture about the bears in the park. The camp site was dominated by the large metal box set off to the side. Everyone around us was grilling and cooking, sending the wonderful smells of warm meals out into the forest to surely attract the bears into our camp. There was this sound coming from the edge of the woods. A screech cry sort of noise followed by retching. "reeeeee reeee" then "aaack, AAAaaack!!" We never did figure out what made the sound.
All night I heard those metal boxes in the campsites bang and clang. I would wake up and stare into the darkness, sure a bear was about to tear through the nylon tent to get to the graham cracker I must have left in my tent. I was convinced a lumbering bear was just outside my tent just waiting for the right time to get the graham cracker and spread me all over it. I slept horribly.

The redwoods and fern canyon made up for the poor sleeping conditions. We hiked into the forest and found fifty foot canyon walls covered with five fingered ferns. We had stepped into a different world. The canyon walls spilled water over moss and ferns, the trees stood tall and strong. We hiked through the canyon then played on the nearby beach where seals played in the surf about fifty yards in front of us. There was a foggy marine layer drifting in and out of the trees making the whole landscape misty. It was a great place to see.