Changing Routes

No one who knows us, or follows us, will be surprised to hear that we did NOT head north through Arizona and Utah National Parks as planned but instead road tripped California to find our way back to Oregon. Ever flexible, when the mild winter turned into a raging spring, our thoughts turned to warmer temps. When Dave & Anne and presumably Max, our road-tripping partners, expressed a desire for warmer and sunnier the original plan was scrapped and we began to route west.

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After visiting friends & family in Arizona, we pointed westward to meet up with our buds at Coachwhip Canyon in the Anza Borrego State Park. Although we have camped with these three for years now, this was their first official “road trip” sort of camping experience and it was fantastic to try out a host of camping options along the way. And wine. There was a lot of wine.

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Anne is a scientist, hence an excellent researcher, and found Coachwhip for our first couple of nights. Sleeping in total silence under a starry sky after hours spent hiking back into the canyon was the perfect antidote to our previous couple of months of near-constant moving and too many “RV Park” experiences. Price: $0.00 but what was priceless was reconnecting with our dear friends after a winter apart.

We had to do Joshua Tree NP, of course, as we had for the last four years. Once again, the eclectic Joshua Tree Lake campground was our choice for combining somewhat hot showers and amenities with endless dog walking options in the adjoining BLM land.

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News of destruction and vandalism in so many National Parks during the government shut-down was fresh in our minds and yet we really didn’t see any evidence of it which was a relief. Hoards of spring-break crowds filled the park and the rock climbing and scenery was as stunning as usual.

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One big goal for the road had been to try out some new Harvest Hosts along the way. On the route to Paso Robles, I came across Sagebrush Annies Winery and some interesting reviews regarding Larry, the owner, and winemaker. Because of the somewhat remote location, we reached out. No response. We called one more time only to again get his machine with the greeting “God bless you and God bless America.” No return call. Disheartened we found an alternative and headed ever west through Gene Autry country California, an area I remember passing through with my family when I was young. I can still remember the picture of myself and Trigger era 1974 or so.

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This section of the state is decidedly not our favorite and we have always considered it a means to an end. Lucky for us, along the way, we discovered a sensational Middle Eastern restaurant in Apple Valley this time around. Mu’s Doner & Kabob was a revelation. A tiny restaurant snuggled between a nail salon and mailing service in a strip mall, it was unimposing, to say the least.  We have found these are often our favorite spots to find a warm welcome and great food and we were proven correct once again.

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It would be hard to find a more pleasant family and showered us with a huge variety of options to choose from and some of the best gyro, shwarma, hummus, and tabouli we’ve ever had. Fresh pita bread, homemade baklava, and a fantastic Greek Salad found us all happily overeating.

Back on the road, we wound our way through valleys and over hills in the stunning Los Padres National Forest, the above average rainfall producing a few minor river crossings and zero traffic. The afternoon found us passing Sagebrush Annie’s after we mistook it for an abandoned site before circling back around to check it out. What we found was unique to be sure. With no cell service, and unsure if Larry would arrive the next morning as promised, we poured some wine, enjoyed a stroll through the vineyards, and passed a quiet evening.

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I think we were all a bit surprised when the next morning, as we were enjoying eggs benedict next to the vineyard, Larry did indeed arrive. At the age of 85, he is still going strong. The tasting room and wine party room were originally built by him and the evidence of craftsmanship is evident in the rock walls and fireplace and gorgeous woodwork. Most importantly, his wines are fantastic. He announced he is too old to make wine he doesn’t love and focuses solely on Cabernet Sauvignons earning himself over 100 Gold Medals in the last decade. Larry is certainly someone we will always remember and we waved a fond goodbye.

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The end of week one found us at an entirely different Harvest Host experience at Tobin James in Paso Robles. Jim and I had spent a few days in this region off and on over the last couple of years and it is a favorite for sure. The small town feel and friendly vineyards are a treat from the spendy, and snotty vineyards farther north. Tobin James, to be fair, is huge with a reported 30,000 members in their wine club. However, a large grassy field, free tastings, and central location were key; along with the fact that they allowed us to spend two nights:)

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The damp weather did not deter us from our goal; WINE, and we headed first to Ranchita Canyon Vineyards where the owner Bill really delivers the goods. What started as a hobby vineyard is now producing many excellent wines, along with some delicious olive oil and port.

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We couldn’t not check out Graveyard Vineyards when we heard that an actual cemetery sits at the entrance of the winery. The festive music, great wines, and coffin shaped wine boxes simply added to the fun.

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The third stop of the day was at Tackitt Family Vineyards which was a fitting finale. The owner, Leon, retired from the Navy after 28 years as an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) operator and turned his home winemaking into a full-time vineyard. We met some regulars, played with his chocolate labs, and enjoyed a barrel tasting.

With week one in the books we got ready to move on, but not before yet another fun evening of wine, good food, and Yahtzee. Viva la road trip!

Note: Most of the photo credit here goes to Anne and her fantastic cell phone after we had a camera debacle along the way:)

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