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Archive for the ‘California’ Category

harvest hosts

Ask any RVing oenophile and they’ll concur: Harvest Hosts a fun and fabulous way to camp for “free”.

My southwest journey was a trip of firsts. My first look at the Grand Canyon. The first time my tires touched Route 66 (and what better place to emerge onto the historic highway than Kingman, Arizona). And, near Kingman, my first experience with the Harvest Hosts program.

The uncomplicated concept is thus: forty dollars a year buys you access to a super-secret map of wineries and vineyards where, for one night, you may camp at no cost.

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of steinbeck and salinas

You know you’re in for an underwhelming museum experience when the docent at the entrance greets you with “We don’t have a lot of exhibits right now.”

There’s a lot to read and very little to see at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Steinbeck…I dunno. Was born? Grew up? Went to school? I was unable to differentiate, assimilate and process what I wanted from the barrage of words and pictures and plastic dioramas that make up the permanent collection, all competing for attention.

Since the exhibit hall is essentially set up for children to enjoy, this should be easier.

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chumash casino

My mom and dad—married 65 years and counting—still live in the POS town in California where I went to high school, an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara (which sounds far tonier than it is).

It’s also near Solvang, the ersatz Danish community where tourists flock to buy abelskivers and crap from the Thomas Kinkade gallery. Six miles further lies the promised land: the smoke-choked but otherwise upscale Chumash Casino.

My parents, frequent flyers of the resort, drag me there when I return home to visit. This trip to Chumash had three saving graces.

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donner, party of 87…

Later: “Donner, party of 84…” (And so on. Ha! I never tire of this joke, once told by restaurant lounge cover bands who used to call names when tables were ready.)

Returning from Bend during a holiday snowstorm on the Santiam Pass (my knuckles are still white), the subject of the ill-fated Donner party arose. What would that trip have been like without a heated, 4WD, 8 cylinder SUV with traction tires?

Well, it was unpleasant.

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olive pit

Everyone from California has driven by the Olive Pit fifty times. Located in Corning, the “Olive Capitol of the World”, (Spain, Italy, or Greece may take umbrage at that) in the blasting hot flatlands north of Sacramento, Olive Pit is the Wall Drug of the west.

The general attitude has always been “move along people, there’s nothing to see here” but I was rapidly approaching friends, in whose driveway I would be camping and upon whom I would soon be mooching. I complied with signs demanding that I take exit 631, confident I’d find a hostess gift, pull-through parking for the Airstream, and a bathroom.

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a moment of silence: the martini wagon

The DWR wasn’t the first caravan. The “Martini Wagon”, a 1958 Cardi remodeled to feature the inherent kitsch of the period, was towed hard up and down the western states to Yosemite and back for nearly ten years. It sadly developed a terminal leak in the ceiling in 2006 and had to be sold on eBay. (It retired to a good home; the wacky new owners were planning to use it as a guest house/party pad out in back of their property in Renton.)

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