Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Joshua Tree National Park

We left Tapo Canyon on Sunday and drove to Joshua Tree National Park.  We stayed for three nights in Black Rock Canyon Campground , the only one that can accommodate rigs as big as ours.  The potholes getting in are absurd, but we  managed; it was a bit tight to maneuver in the campground, but again, we managed.  The site was crazily unlevel, but Steve did a great job leveling us.  The view, however, was great!  We were surrounded by Joshua Trees!

While we were here, the weather was fabulous!  Plenty of sunshine, reasonably warm, and yet not too hot.   Our first full day we hiked Hidden Valley, ate lunch at Quail Springs (too many honey bees interested in our jam), drove to Keys View (great view of the San Andreas Fault), and hiked Split Rock.  After leaving on our 2 mile Split Rock hike, Steve asked me if I had the keys to the truck.  My reply was, "No, of course not."  After all, I had not driven, and Steve had not given me the keys.  After returning from our hike, we discovered that our keys were resting nicely in the ignition, and while the doors were securely closed, they were unlocked.  Whew!!  So glad we didn't lock the keys in the truck, and so glad no one discovered our oops and thought our truck looked nice for the taking!
The line in the distance is the San Andreas fault.

On our second full day, we hiked Forty-nine Palms and the short 1/2 mile nature trail at Indian Cove.  The Forty-nine Palms hike is three miles roundtrip, and while the girls were grumbling a little about it in advance, they did awesome, and afterwards talked about how much they enjoyed it!
It was cool to see a real oasis.

The girls also all earned another Junior Ranger badge, patch, and a special bonus, a free children's book about Joshua Trees!  The ranger that gave them their badges had a great sense of humor and made the process more fun than usual.

This is definitely a neat park to visit.  I'd definitely come back & tent camp here, though you have to be mindful of the weather.  Of course, there are only pit toilets throughout the park, but they were kept very clean and didn't smell.  (Did ya hear that, Yellowstone???  It is possible to have nice pit toilets, after all!!)

The rocks are fun to climb on.
We ate lunch at this spot.   The weather was perfect!

The ranger we talked to said there were more injuries from plants than animals in the park.   This cactus is the biggest culprit.
Why the trail was named the "Split Rock" trail
Jake crawled through this rock from one side to the other.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Catching Up with the Gusners

We spent Saturday at John and Penny Gusner's house in Thousand Oaks.  The last time we visited them, we had just two little kids, and they had none.  Now, we have four, and they have three!  It's always fun to see friends and their families.  Their three kids are absolutely adorable!  Kara is five, and Greyson and Leia are two; all three are sweet and friendly, such fun little personalities!  John treated us to a yummy, homemade lunch, and our kids enjoyed being in a house again.  There were toys galore, and everyone enjoyed themselves.  Fun catching up with you guys, John & Penny!  Thanks so much for lunch and for the hospitality!

Greyson enjoyed having another boy around
Leia was a good hostess in sharing her toys
Shanan had fun playing with John's IPad
Leia looks most like her daddy
Our kids hadn't seen this many toys in a while

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hollywood and Santa Monica

After leaving Watsonville, we found a gem of a place to stay, with one exception, to be discussed momentarily.  We drove to Tapo Canyon in Simi Valley on Thanksgiving Day.  Yep, a whole lotta miles with PBJ and taco salad on the menu.  Can't say it felt much like Thanksgiving, but that's okay.  We did have a fabulous, early Thanksgiving with my sister Janet and her family, so we were all thankful for that.  This place had nice, spacious concrete sites, with a nice bathhouse, pay showers, and a lovely playground...and awesome sunsets.  The only downside was the sugar ant population that located our rig and decided to take up residence indoors.  The warmer, dryer weather was a welcome, needed change after the cool, damp temps in Watsonville.  We discovered that our rig doesn't do cool, damp weather well; our windows and walls were dripping condensation!  It was good to have the chance to let everything dry out and air out, even if it did come with sugar ants!

The Jakeman
While here, we planned to visit the Ronald Reagan Library & Museum.  Steve was sure that everyone would be at the malls for Black Friday, but he was oh so wrong.  Steve dropped us off at the entrance, then went back to find parking.  He found parking along the road at the 13th president, walked back, saw the line to purchase tickets for entry, and determined it would be an unwise choice considering we were there with four kids.  When we left, the parking lot was still full, and both sides of the road were lined with cars nearly all the way back to the main road.  Craziness!!

We decided to drive through Hollywood, though we didn't stop.  Apparently the last time Steve saw Hollywood he didn't get a good view of the famous Hollywood sign & needed to remedy that.  He did, and then he was ready to move on.
Hollywood Blvd

Off to Santa Monica we went.  We found parking right off the pier for $7.  There were plenty of people there, so we were sure we wouldn't find any treasures along the beach.  Alyssa was the first one to find an intact sand dollar!  A tiny, intact sand dollar!  She proceeded to find two more tiny little sand dollars; the smallest one was almost identical in size to a dime, with the others slightly larger.  Shanan & I also found a larger, intact sand dollar each, and Steve once again watched the two little ones have a blast covering themselves and everything around them with sand.  Jake flirted with some more Asians and got his picture taken, something that seems to happen a fair amount on these travels;.I think it must be a cultural thing.

We walked out on the pier and watched a beautiful sunset.  Plenty of people watching to do here!  Plenty of street performers, too!  Fun times were had here in Santa Monica!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Santa Cruz, California

We started out our day at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.  It is reasonably priced, and definitely fun, worth a stop.  Beware of the crazy potholes on the road on the way in and in the parking lot though!  Shanan was holding Jake for me while I put the wrap on, when she tripped on one those nasty potholes & went down.  So thankful they were both completely fine, though definitely spooked.  

Having fun playing with gravity
It is a strange sensation to be able to "lean" way out
Someone suggested we check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk, even though all the amusement park rides are closed at this time of year.  Because all the rides aren't operational, the parking is FREE---big bonus!  Steve was a real sweetheart and kept the little ones while I combed the beach with the big girls.  There's just something about walking barefoot on the beach that makes me so happy.  We found soooo many sand dollars, lots & lots of fragmented ones, but we also found quite a few whole, intact sand dollars!  They are so beautiful!  This was so much fun for me & the girls.  The little ones had a blast playing in the sand, too!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Point Lobos

On our way to Point Lobos, we spied a very cool playground in Monterey, close to Fisherman's Wharf.  We decided to go check it out.  What an awesome, free playground!  It's a Dennis the Menace Park, and even though it was crawling with children (we thought they'd all be at school but guess they're on Thanksgving Break), we had a lot of fun here!

The train was open to climb over, around, and on top of.
The slide was made of rollers like an assembly line

We expected our visit to Point Lobos to be a little less crowded since we were visiting on a weekday, but again, Thanksgiving Break means more people. We still had a great time here.  At low tide, we were able to explore lots of tide pools, and  for the first time, we all saw lots of amazing, colorful starfish, sea anemones, sea urchins, and crabs---the kind you see pictures of in textbooks and see in aquariums but hardly ever see in the wild.  Sooo cool!

This is one of the most beautiful places on Earth

We looked for the famous sea otters, but despite using binoculars, none of us could definitively say we saw one. We did see and hear sea lions though!

The Monterey Cypress trees were beautiful
The islands in the distance were covered by Sea Lions