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Exploring America On Wheels
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Report 11: San Francisco CA to Aldergrove BC

Route

From San Francisco we went SE To Fresno, then North on CA-41 into Yosemite National Park. From Yosemite we went SW, through Merced, to Monterey. We then resumed our southward trek along the Pacific Coast Highway, through Big Sur, to Morrow Bay (about 100 miles north of Santa Barbara). From Morrow Bay we went south a bit, towards Pismo Beach, then turned NE through St. Louis Obispo, before heading east along CA-58 to Bakersfield. We continued eastward, picking up I-15 at Barstow CA, stopping at Las Vegas. From Vegas, we stayed on I-15 through Salt Lake City, to Tremonton UT, where we picked up I-84, heading NW across SW Idaho. We stayed on I-84 to Hermiston OR, where we followed the Columbia River Gorge, crossing over between the south shore (Oregon) and north shore (Washington). In Portland, we took I-5 north to Auburn WA, where we picked up our motor home. From Auburn, it was an easy drive up I-5 to Bellingham, where we turned onto WA-539, which turns into BC-13 at the Lynden border crossing. This is a great place to cross, compared with the truck crossing, Peace Arch crossing and Sumas/Abbotsford crossing, as it is hardly used and therefore has no queues. The Eagle Wind RV Park, where our current story ends is straight north of the Lynden crossing.

Stops

Fresno CA, 28 Jan, La Quinta. An older property, but in good shape.

Merced CA, 29 Jan, Quality Inn, JAM, nothing spectacular.

Monterey CA 30-31 Jan, La Quinta, very clean with a nice breakfast, next to a park.

Morro Bay CA, 1 Feb, Holland Inn, a modest, independent motel, very clean (caution if you go to Morro Bay, we looked at several over-priced dumps before finding this place).

Bakersfield CA, 2 – 11 Feb, Sleep Inn, friendly, nice breakfast.

Barstow CA, 11 – 14 Feb, Travel Lodge, old but well maintained property, nice managers (if you go to Barstow be sure to stay at a motel away from the RR tracks).

Las Vegas NV, 15 Feb – 9 March, Crestwood Suites, much like Extended Stay America, with kitchenette. Nice and clean but really crummy beds. The problem is the foundation, not the mattress; we had ours changed. Pleasant staff.

St. George UT, 10 – 14 March, Howard Johnson, decent, and a good breakfast.

Cedar City UT, 15 – 16 March, Day's Inn, JAM (just another motel).

Salt Lake City UT, 17 – 18 March, Best Western, JAM.

Baker City OR, 19 March, Knight's Inn, old and not the cleanest, but large rooms, crummy breakfast.

Hermiston, OR, 20 March, Motel-6, the only nice Motel-6 that we saw; it had a microwave and fridge.

The Dalles OR, 21 Mar, Dalles Inn, down town, a nice hotel well located in the old town.

Gresham OR, 22 – 24 March, Day's Inn, JAM.

Auburn WA, 25 March – 18 April, one night at Travel Lodge, brand new but really tiny rooms (ours was so small it only had three walls), then Day's Inn at the end of the airport runway, which has much bigger rooms and nicer amenities. They will lower the price if you haggle.

Highlights

We went to Fresno specifically to see the Underground Gardens (URLhere), Fresno's only major tourist attraction. Alas, it was closed for maintenance, so all we did was walk around the old town area, which is quite nice, compared to many of the other towns we've seen in the USA. The next day, we drove through Yosemite National Park (yosemitepark.com), which was a treat. A big storm had been through there earlier, leaving huge snow banks and fallen trees, which were already cleaned up by the time we got there. Signs said that we had to have chains to enter at this time of year, but we ignored them with impunity. In the high season, driving through most of the park is not allowed; so this was a great time to see it. Our only gripe was that they do not allow dogs on some of the trails, even on a leash; we obeyed these signs, once, then ignored them, again with impunity.

Monterey (seemonterey.com) is a great place to spend time at the beach. They have well-maintained trails along side the beach and lots of sand beaches along which to walk and run the dog. Nearby, Carmel by the Sea (URLhere) also has great beaches, which we visited; we also drove around it for hours, looking for Clint Eastwood and gawking at all the lovely houses. We eschewed the famed 17-mile drive (URLhere) through Pebble Beach, feeling that paying the rich for the privilege of driving on streets through their neighbourhood was ridiculous. Golfers would probably appreciate it more than we. The Monterey area is also a great place for seafood; we had a nice outdoor lunch at a little café, not much more than a shack really, right on the wharf. This made for great people watching.

We won't dwell on the scenery of the Pacific Highway, as we covered it in detail in our last report. Suffice it to say that it was just as nice south of Monterey as it was north. Along the way we spotted many migrating whales. Luckily, there are lots of pull-outs along the highway where we could get a good view. If you do this drive, go north to south, as we did, because the pull-outs are more safely accessible and the scenery is not masked by passing vehicles in the oncoming lane. We generally research our next destination, if only a day or two before, but somehow, we missed the Big Sur elephant seal colony (URLhere), which is right alongside the highway. We only stopped because we saw so many cars parked seemingly for no reason. What a hoot! If you are ever down this way don't miss it.

Morro Bay (URLhere) is famous for its big rock at the end of its blunt peninsula. We also enjoyed a beach walk along rounded stones, and we liked the nearby state park. Only about a half hour away is the famous Hearst Castle (URLhere). We drove in, saw all the tour buses, and drove right back out. Later on, we found out that there is a video at the interpretation centre that is worth seeing. We nearly regret not going on the tour, but just can't abide huge crowds. On the other hand, there is enough information and video on the enclosed URL to satisfy our curiosity. If you are into art and castles this would be a 'don't miss'.

At first glance, Bakersfield CA (visitbakersfield.com) is just a big city that services the areas oil patch, vineyards and other industries. But, if you stay there long enough and look around, as we did, one discovers that there is a bit more to it. There is some wonderful scenery in the Great Central Valley, including some canyon, lakes and river parks. If you are into country music, Bakersfield is home to the “Bakersfield Sound” of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, among others, memorialised by the Crystal Palace Bar and Museum (URLhere).

Barstow CA was an important way-point for us, as it was where we turned NE to follow Route-66 the previous spring. So, by arriving there from the NW, we completed a huge circle around the USA and southern Canada, bisected by Rte-66. Last year we visited Barstow Station Rte-66 museum and drove Rainbow Basin, but missed the controversial Calico early man site (URLhere). We tramped around the desert, but did not find any evidence of early man, just lots of dune buggy tracks (same thing? <VBG>). The Calico ghost town (calicotown.com) was fun. It's developed by Knott's Berry Farm, so is really touristy, with people walking around in period costume, staged gunfights, and the like. Back in Barstow, we again enjoyed a feed of pulled pork from a little shack on main street that we discovered last winter.

Las Vegas is good for much more than just gambling. Indeed, one might argue that it isn't much good to gamble there anyway! As our motor home was taking far longer to repair than we had anticipated, we had ample opportunity to sample its attractions. Just west of Vegas is Red Rock Canyon (URLhere), an easy and scenic way to spend a day. About an hour north of Vegas is the Valley of Fire (URLhere); this is a terrific drive. No visit to the area would be complete without seeing Hoover Dam (URLhere), which we crossed over and back in our car, and walked around. From the dam one can see stunning views of the new highway bridge being built across the gorge above and just downstream from the dam (URLhere). As good as the web site in the URL is, no pictures can do justice to seeing this thing under construction. We also went to Lake Meade (URLhere), stopping at the visitation centre. We were stunned by the low water level. It is so low now that there are boat launch ramps that go down into dry valleys, miles from the nearest water. Other launch ramps have had to be extended to reach the water. Molly discovered she is, indeed, a water dog, when she spotted some ducks in Lake Meade. Had she not been leashed she'd still be paddling around out there trying to catch them. Back in Vegas, we caught a show at Harrods (Mac King) for Louise-Ann's birthday, and walked Fremont street, which at one time was a fading flower, but now has a huge canopy with a light and sound show to attract visitors. We would not recommend going there just to see it, but it was worth seeing if you are in the area. The casinos, on the other hand, are a collection of has-beens, with poor ventilation and lots of cigarette smoke, compared to the newer ones on 'the strip'. Still, we managed to find a nice restaurant at the end of Fremont, where we had an inexpensive steak dinner and beer on the terrace, while people-watching. Vegas also has some nice amenities for those that live there, like parks; Molly's favourite was Sunset Park, which has all sorts of sports fields, a dog run and a big pond full of ducks and geese. Here she discovered that geese are not to be trifled with.

Utah is Mormon country and in St. George we encountered a huge Mormon Temple (URLhere). We did not know that there was more than the famous one at Salt Lake City. St. George is the main jumping-off point to visit Zion National Park (atozion.com), yet another don't-miss natural wonder in this area, which we did over two days, first from the west entrance off I-15, then from the east entrance. We were lucky to see mountain goats & kids, and as there was not much traffic in the off-season, had a picnic on the rocks, where Molly discovered snow. On our second day, going into Zion, from the east, we happened upon Moqui Cave (URLhere), a controversial, man-made tourist attraction. It consists of a hole in the rock, which houses florescent rocks, artefacts and bones giving an overall funky appeal worth a brief visit.

Just north of St. George, on the way to Cedar City, we happened upon Kolob Canyons (URLhere), a seldom visited and totally different extension of Zion canyon, complete with a little visitor centre. Cedar City UT (URLhere) is the best spot from which to visit Bryce Canyon (URLhere) and Red Canyon (URLhere). It also has some wonderful drives in the area of Cedar Breaks National monument, although the monument road itself was snowed in when we were there. Between St. George and Cedar City, we spent a week enjoying stunning scenery, both in the canyons and driving to and from them.

We did nothing in Salt Lake City. Perhaps it was because we were anxious to get back to our motor home, or maybe because we had just seen so many stunning sights that we'd become jaded. By the time we arrived there, we saw only another big city. As we'd already seen the temple at St. George we just blew right through, kind of a 'see one church seen them all' sort of thing.

Shoshone Falls (URLhere), near Twin Falls Idaho, was an unexpected detour. We saw signs along the road and followed them, and we are happy that we did. There is a stunning drive down the little gorge with great views of the falls and a terrific walk along the basin.

Baker City (URLhere) has a nice down-town but did not stay to see much of it. On the way to Baker City we did stop to visit a historic dam on the Owyhee River (URLhere), once the tallest dam in the world. Baker City is on the Oregon Trail, the popular view of which is heavily influenced by Hollywood movies depicting savage attacks by native Indians. In fact, this rarely happened, but when it did near Castle Butte, the result was enough to fuel dozens of movies. The Utter Wagon Train attack (URLhere) in September 1860 near Castle Butte, was a tragic story.
In our haste to explore the Columbia Basin, we did not do justice to The Dalles OR (URLhere). It has an interesting history, being at the end of the Oregon Trail. The down-town is decorated with a number of murals depicting its history.

On the way south last autumn, we had followed the Columbia River west from I-5 to the Pacific Coast Highway; it was most scenic, even without much of the foliage. So, looking forward to seeing the rest of it, we crossed the Columbia River Gorge (crgva.org) several times as we took in some breathtaking views of the river, surrounding countryside and vineyards. The view from the north bank, in Washington, is the better of the two, but the highlight of a visit to the Gorge is a short drive on the south bank, along which are many fantastic waterfalls (FallsURL), such as the Multnomah and Bridal Veil Falls. Follow the enclosed URL to a map showing their location (zoom it in a bit to see them all). As you can see from the table below the map, this has to be some sort of record for waterfalls per mile. We also visited Cascade Locks OR (both the name of a town and a lock on the river) and the Bonneville Dam (URLhere). While driving along the north shore we came across what appeared to be a castle, a magnificent building with nicely landscaped grounds, seemingly new. It was built by a tycoon for his wife; she took an instant dislike of the area and refused to live there; it now houses the Maryhill Museum of Art (maryhillmuseum.org), featuring Northwest art. Of course, we had to stop to get a souvenir for our friend Mary Hill. We also stopped at a lovely vineyard nearby, bearing the same name. Mary loves wine, but having a vineyard named after one's self must be a new height!

Auburn WA has little to recommend for the traveller. It is a business centre for the area, but with urban expansion is now little more than a satellite of Tacoma and Seattle. There are a couple of casinos, one a large Vegas-style, neither of which we visited. We had a small casino just across the parking lot from our hotel and people there certainly seemed to be having fun, at least from the din they raised. Most of our time was spent visiting our motor home, and wondering how on earth it could take nearly five months to do what amounted to not much more than two or three weeks worth of work. The answer, by the way, is lack of timely delivery of parts by Winnebago and its local dealer. One thing we did enjoy was watching the light aeroplanes taking off and landing at the airport right across from our hotel. As this is a training centre, there was the odd 'interesting' landing, including one aborted landing by a twin-engine Beechcraft that produced a huge roar as the pilot floored the throttles to avoid disaster. You'd think that a hotel at the end of a runway would be noisy, but once inside we rarely heard anything. Also, there was nearly no activity at night.

Aldergrove BC is a good alternative to being in Vancouver. It is close enough to go into the city for a visit, but far enough out to have a rural feeling. The town has all the normal facilities, making trips to neighbouring Langley and Abbotsford unnecessary most of the time.