Thursday, April 9, 2015

California and Back

We began the second half of our spring trip with an expedition from Palm Desert to the Santa Anita
Mona's New Friend
At Santa Anita
Track in Arcadia, California.  As soon as we entered the gate we were impressed with the beauty of the track grounds.  There were exotic “poodle-trimmed” trees, along with lots of flowers and beautiful landscape everywhere.  Gorgeous!  We had purchased “Club” tickets for an extra $5 which gave us access to comfortable seating and terrace dining.  The terrace dining was an awesome experience…sitting high above the track at our table with tablecloths, silverware and great service.  We loved it!  Neither of us did that well in choosing winners, but we had a great time and will be back!

Sunday was another polo day.  We love horse events and polo is a way to see horses up close and personal. I love it when the horses thunder down the field after the ball and then turn on a dime when the ball is whacked away.  These ponies can run!  Note: they call them “ponies” but in fact, most are thoroughbreds with many coming from racetrack careers.  Virtually all of these ponies are 14 to 16 hands tall, kind of big for a pony!

All too soon it was time to leave Coachella Valley.  We said our goodbyes and headed west towards LA.  Earlier in the week we had taken the same route to Santa Anita, but this time we were headed further west.  However, just as we hit the 210 we ran into the famous LA traffic.  Mona quickly re-navigated us to Old Route 66 and we cruised right past the bad traffic.  

Vineyard Near Paso Robles.  Can you "drought"?!
Hearst Castle was our destination but on the way we found that the area around Paso Robles has almost 200 wineries.  Since it was lunch time we found a winery that serves food and we stopped for a tasting and a bite to eat.  We ate outside in the 80 degree weather and enjoyed the views of neighboring vineyards and soaring birds above.  It’s hard to beat that kind of lunch!

Indoor pool at Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is unique to say the least.  It was built on a sixteen hundred foot hill overlooking the Pacific.  The site was where William Randolph Hearst used to camp as a boy and as an adult he wanted to live there.  The building looks like a castle with two turrets and the inside looks much like a European medieval castle with lots of tapestries and dark wood.  I loved the surrounding grounds as they brought to mind a Roman villa overlooking the Mediterranean.  Mona’s favorite was the inside swimming pool with it’s aqua colors and gold gilding.

Our next stop was Monterey.  We visited here two years ago and loved the area; especially, the sea otters.  On that trip we took a whale-watching tour but the seas were so rough the captain had to turn back to shore without spotting a whale.  That was a memorable boat ride; not only for the high seas but also because we went through a pod of about 1500 dolphins.  Since we didn’t see whales the charter service gave us free tickets for a repeat try.

This time the captain was again worried about the wind and high seas.  But, at 10:00 we set out.  
This time wasn’t nearly as rough but even so well over half of the forty people on board soon got sick.  Didn’t matter to us though!  We just hung onto the rail and kept our eyes peeled for blows.  Again, we saw hundreds of dolphins and 16 whales.  One huge 40 ton whale jumped totally out of the water making an enormous splash.  Awesome!!!  I didn’t get any decent whale pictures because it took both hands to hold onto the rail, but we both got the memories!

As I said, we love the sea otters around Monterey.  These guys are usually about 4 feet long and about 80 pounds.  They are like a sea- loving Irish setter.  They are everywhere in the area; around the docks, along the coast, and we even saw them several miles out to sea.  In all locations they have the same behaviors:  dive for mollusks, return to the surface and float on their back, and then use their special rock (that they keep in a pouch) to break the shell of the mollusk so they can eat it.  After they’re done eating their catch they dive back down and start all over again.  They have to eat about 25 - 40% of their body weight every day so they eat a lot!

After whale-watching we drove north of Monterey to a little bay where there are lots of otters.  There we climbed up on the rocks and watched otters and sea life all afternoon.  What a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Hard to get a sense of
scale on these giants
The next part of our trip was to check off another item on our bucket list: The Redwood National Park.  We drove up highway 101, the Redwood Highway, with thousands of redwoods and other pines along the way.  Before we got to the park we stopped at Leggett, California.  Mona didn’t know, but I knew that is one of the three remaining drive-through redwoods in California.  Mona got to drive her Highlander through the tree and she got such a kick doing so!  

Soon we were in the National Park proper.  We headed to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove to take a hike into the woods.  It was awesome walking among those giant trees.  Did you know that these trees live almost 2000 years and grow to over 375 feet!  They are huge!!!

Almost 375 feet tall...a 35 story building
would fit under here!
We spent the night in Eureka in Humboldt County.  Frankly, this is a weird area with lots of strange people walking around…..most of them unkempt with shaggy hair and only a few of their teeth.  They aren’t homeless but just odd and they are everywhere.  It's very unsettling and it made us be all the more wary when we parked our vehicle and when we geocached.

The next day we headed east across California on route 299.  This is a very scenic route through the pine forests with lots of twists and turns….and road construction.  Lots of road construction!  And did I say pine forests?  Mona has always been allergic to pine and I’m developing the same allergies so after a day and a half in the woods we were both sneezing and going through boxes of tissue.  We were anxious to get away from the scenery and beauty and pines!!!  But of course, not so anxious that we didn’t stop at the Bigfoot Museum.

The Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek is one of the pre-eminent Bigfoot museums in the United States so of course we stopped there.  That was one of the reasons were on Route 299 in the first place.  We had done our research and knew that it didn’t open till 10 so we timed our visit just right; only to find that it doesn’t open until May.  We called a number posted on the museum door.  The lady who answered said she’d come over and open up for us.  Sure enough, in about 15 minutes a big old Cadillac pulled in and out jumped a little old lady.  Peggy was her name and she’s 84 years old and knows every Bigfoot story ever told.  She’s never seen Bigfoot, herself but she’s still hopeful!  

There’s a lot of stuff in the museum about the area, but all we cared to see was the Bigfoot room.  There were lots of casts of Bigfoot footprints, handprints and even thigh prints from where a Bigfoot had lain down on a muddy slope to eat a meal.  There were lots of newspaper reports and testimonials from scientists and doctors regarding hair samples found after Bigfoot sightings.  If you’re not a believer when you go in; you’re at least a wonderer when you come out!

We bought a few souvenirs and while checking us out Peggy told us about all the strange people in the area.  She says they’re mostly drug users and marijuana farmers.  They don’t mix well with long-time residents.  She said the newcomers are hot-tempered and threaten anyone who crosses them.  According to her, it gets worse when it’s time to harvest the marijuana because people come from all over the world to help bring in the crop.  We definitely didn’t do any hiking or geocaching in those back woods!

It took us a day to get across California and get to Reno.  There we stayed at the Silver Legacy and stayed in the artificially pure non-pine air all night.  Breath deeply!  The Silver Legacy had lots of restaurants and plenty of slot games we like.  Mona won and all was well!  (I lost.)

Our Eastward travels continued and on our last night out we stayed in Des Moines, Iowa.  There we linked up with an old friend, Mack Thompson, from Illinois Power.  He and his wife, Debbie, live downtown in a loft and it was highly reminiscent of our former place in St. Louis.  We walked downtown to eat making it even more of a STL-experience.  

You’d think we’d be tired of driving and anxious to head home after almost 6500 miles on this trip,
Hay Dude!
wouldn’t you?  Not!  We are still working on finding a geocache in every Illinois county and there were 10 counties in Western Illinois that we still needed.  So, we took a couple of hours and wound our way south through ten counties.  One of these counties is where Joseph Young, the founder of Mormonism, was shot.  Another county had a neat bridge over the Illinois river. And yet, another had the Hay Dude.  Always something to see and learn while you’re caching!

We finally made it home.  Time to do the laundry and start packing for the next trip!

Traveling Tips.  (The second in a series.)


We use an app called Gas Buddy when we’re looking for gas.  This app helps you find the lowest gas prices around; whether it be around the corner or the next exit.  We saved an average of 20 cents per gallon when using the app.

Airline Miles

Normally, we use our Starwoods credit card for everything.  That’s because they give you a 5000 mile bonus when you convert Starwoods points to American miles.  However, we recently got a US Airways card.  We got a 50,000 mile bonus for signing up for the card and these miles will convert to American miles when the merger is complete.  At this time, the US Airways card is giving you 1.5 miles for every dollar spent; making it the best card for American miles until late June.

International Calls on Your Mobile

While on this trip we received our phone bill and there was $44 in international calls from our cruise.  It was evident that these were Mona’s calls because I always have my phone on airplane mode while out of the country.  I gently reminded her that these calls are pricey and to be aware of the costs of talking.  She took the reminder in good form, but the next morning she challenged the calls saying that she had only used her phone while in US Territories where the calls are free.  She convinced me, so I called ATT to tell them about the incorrect billing.  

The ATT agent was most sympathetic and she was working with me to investigate. I was telling the agent how the calls were from Mona's phone when the agent interrupted me and said, “Mr. Sowers, these calls aren’t from Mona’s phone.  They’re from yours.”  “Hmmmm!” says I, “That makes it even more curious since I ALWAYS have my phone on airplane mode when cruising.”  (Practically perfect in every way, that’s me!)  The ATT agent was having trouble figuring things out, because I always have my phone on airline mode when cruising so she put me on hold so she could connect us with an ATT International specialist.  

As I was humming to the hold music I started backtracking in my mind…..the calls came from Grand Turk…what had happened in Grand Turk?…..hmmmm….  Suddenly, the horrible truth came to me.  In Grand Turk Mona had “lost” her phone and I had taken my phone off airplane mode so I could call her phone.  Just as I called she discovered her phone in the restroom.  Relieved, I put my phone in my pocket and immediately began making pocket calls….to the tune of $44!!!  I blame the medicinal rum that I had taken to mitigate the pain from stepping on a nail.  (What color is sheepish?)

I confessed, both to the ATT agents and to Mona.  ATT was very gracious, even though they were laughing about the rum, and they took off $22 worth of the charges.  Mona was gracious too, but in a smurky sort of way.

What's the tip?  Keep your phones on airplane mode at all times if you don't want to incur international roaming charges.  Duh!

Microwaving Boiled Eggs 

This sign was at the next hotel.  
One sunny morning Mona and I were the only ones in the self-serve breakfast bar at our hotel.  Mona was busy making her own breakfast and I was already eating.  I noticed her turning from the microwave and I looked up.  SPLAT!!!  Egg all over my glasses, my hair and the entire dining area.  Mona said the eggs started jumping in the bowl just before they exploded.

Roadside Lemonaide


More tips next time!

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