Oct 9-28 - Gently Southbound
We've been going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland OR almost as long as we've been married. We didn't make it last year, and it didn't look like we'd get there this year either, but the schedule change for our floor covering project in Junction City gave us an opportunity. Therefore, our first stop southbound was Ashland (41). We parked for 3 nights in a tatty little RV park at the Econolodge motel at the north end of town, perhaps the only folks there who didn't actually live there. But the price was about half the cost of the "normal" RV parks in the area, and the location was very convenient.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produces more plays per season than any other theatre company in the country, and they're always trying to explore new ways to do that. They do a lot more than just Shakespeare, and this year, for the first time, they produced a musical. Because we planned this visit kind of late, we were able to see just the one production - the musical. "Music Man" was everything we expected and a little bit more. We were pleased that the show was presented with a cast from the regular company. No hired guns were brought in to do all that singing - they even put together a very good barbershop quartet. There were a few of the usual OSF casting twists - one part was played by a deaf, mostly non-speaking actor - and the theatre was sold out. We left Ashland ahead of a major storm, and we'd hoped to stay ahead of it as we moved south.
We try not to drive more than 300 miles in a day, and prefer less. Our overnight stop was at a place called Canyon Creek (42), about 10 miles off the freeway near Winters CA. We had a great parking spot next to the creek, where the resident Osprey entertained us. Overnight, the storm we were trying to avoid hit, and we pulled out in the morning through a driving rain with high winds. Visibility was horrible, and the winds made the motorhome quite unstable. Even so, we made our traditional stop at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield CA to stock up on Bellyflops - the affordable factory seconds - before continuing another 100 or so tense miles to the 1000 Trails park at Morgan Hill, CA (43), a little south of San Jose. We went out for dinner that night, and had multiple detours due to flooded streets. Turns out the storm was the remains of Pacific typhoon Melor that had done a lot of damage in Japan a week before. After it passed over us, it pretty much drenched the rest of the US. It rained hard on us for two days, much of the time at a rate of about an inch an hour. Needless to say, the water leak in the motorhome brought us indoor moisture, but not as much as we'd expected.
Our park was about 40 miles from Monterey, and we drove there twice. Among other things, Monterey was the home of Hank Ketcham, and it's where he drew his Dennis the Menace comic for many years. There's no Dennis museum, but there is a most wonderful Dennis the Menace Playground, aimed at kids around 6 years old, which is the age Dennis has been holding for almost 60 years. You could hear the kids for blocks. It's an absolutely delightful playground. Almost makes you want to be 6 again.
The coastline around Monterey is fantastic, and we drove it as far south as Carmel by the Sea. And, of course, we spent most of a day at the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the show of the season was "The Secret Lives of Seahorses". Many attempts to take pictures ensured. Some of the few successful images can be found in our slideshow.
Morgan Hill is very near Gilroy CA, the self-proclaimed garlic capitol of the world. You know you're near Gilroy by the smell - uh - "aroma". We spent a day at Gilroy Gardens, an interesting combination of botanical gardens and amusement park. The gardens were started by the owner of a chain of supermarkets, and it just kind of evolved. The major claim to fame are the "circus trees" - a collection of about 20 intricately formed (or deformed) trees. The circus trees were created back in the 30's by a Scandinavian farmer who started playing with some sycamore saplings. (Why is it usually Scandinavians who do those kinds of oddball things?) The gardens have been open to the public for about 10 years, and we hope they survive. The park isn't big enough to be a major amusement park, and it's too big to be a mom-and-pop operation. But it's absolutely delightful.
Our original plan involved a week in Buellton CA for a rally of folks who have Datastorm internet satellite dishes like ours, but the rally never achieved critical mass, and we bailed out. Instead, we drove to the Rancho Oso (44), a 1000 Trails horse ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains about 15 miles north of Santa Barbara. We've never spent any time in this area, and we still haven't spent as much time as we'd like. Like most folks with RVs, we've stayed in many places where you're warned about bears. We've stayed in a few that warned us to be alert for rattlesnakes, and occasionally for coyotes. This was the first park to alert us to the presence of mountain lions. We never saw any, but still . . . .
Rancho Oso (it means "Bear Ranch") is a working horse ranch. You can rent their horses for trail rides, or bring your own animals. It's been more or less continuously occupied for over 3000 years, and there are Indian mounds within the ranch. Aside from the isolation (or maybe because of it), it's a delightful place. We were visited regularly by mule deer and wild turkeys. We had two unusual animal encounters. The park is home to a large number of Acorn Woodpeckers - energetic little guys who drill holes in trees and then stuff them with acorns from the Live Oaks in the park. The birds actually eat the acorns. (Here'sa Wikipedia article about Acorn Woodpeckers if you're interested.) There was a big oak near our campsite with thousands of acorn holes. We're guessing the many ground squirrels in the area may also benefit. Our other unusual animal encounter was a large tarantula we spotted crossing the road. October is apparently when the male tarantulas migrate in search of female tarantulas. Anyway, this guy was making good progress, and we stopped to let him pass (and take some pictures). We hope he found what he was after.
Solvang CA is a Danish town, settled in the 1860's by Danes, and now a Danish-themed tourist town. We spent a few days wandering the town, investigating the Danish bakeries and some of the shops. Neat town. We visited three of California's historic missions in the area - Santa Ines in Solvang, Old Mission Santa Barbara, and Las Purisima near Lompoc. The first two are still active Catholic churches, while the third is now a state park. The history of these missions is fascinating.
Santa Barbara is a beautiful city in a spectacular setting. Many years ago, the city settled on mission-style architecture, and almost every building you see looks to be 200+ years old. It's almost exclusively a tourist economy, but the residents are also well-heeled and support the cultural elements of the area. The day we left, Garrison Keeler was to be in town. We took the sightseeing trolley ride one day, and came back several times to visit the zoo (an OK smaller zoo), and the absolutely wonderful Natural History Museum. There was much we didn't see in the Santa Barbara area, and we'll have to plan a return visit one of these years.
And now, a complete non-sequitur: We ran across this marvelous quote from Nelson Mandela that is just too good not to share. It has nothing at all to do with anything else in this report.
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. -- Nelson Mandela
See some of the pictures we took while heading south here.