California Move: Trip Summary and Statistics

Cross country route to Davis, CA. It wasn’t what one would call direct.

Total mileage: 4596

Gallons diesel: ~315

Average MPG: ~14.6

Well, it only took us two months to get our travel diary entries into blog form. Looking back, it was a bit of a rainbows and roses view of the trip. This is not saying that it wasn’t all storm clouds, but 2 adults, a toddler, and three dogs all sharing 150 feet square feet for a month can wear on all parties. All creatures seemed to have less tolerance for everything. It was nice to get out of Abby and into something a little bit more generously sized. So we survived our journey, and a wonderful time (with a few clouds thrown in here and there).

We made some improvements over our last westward trip (June/July 2015 – hope to get some summary posts up regarding that trip soon).

  • The main improvement being that we added rest days. We stopped, relaxed, and didn’t have to worry about jumping into Abby and heading to the next destination.
  • We coordinated our food/fuel stops. We filled Abby up just before we arrived the night’s campground and filled up when we stopped for lunch. This allowed us to save time in the morning when we had a long day and needed to get on the road. The single stop during the day reduced our total travel time.
  • It was really nice to visit family and friends during the course of the trip.

There are still opportunities for improvement.

  • Our travel days were not leisurely. We had a schedule to keep, so if we passed something of interest on the road, we couldn’t necessarily stop and check it out. If we really enjoyed a place, like Big Bend, and wanted to stay longer, it just wasn’t feasible.
  • This was a dual purpose trip. We were moving across country so that meant extra stuff came with us that normally wouldn’t have been on this trip. So much extra stuff.
  • We also learned that setting the cruise control while towing is not the best option if there are hills/mountains involved (lets just say positive grades). It taxes the engine and transmission and completely destroys gas mileage. We learned that lesson pretty quick.
  • Covering 1200 miles in the first three days (~1/4 of the total mileage in ~1/9 trip time) was brutal.

So what was Abby’s state at the end of this? Poor girl was filthy, inside and out, despite our best efforts regarding the inside. Abby smelled of laundry, wet shoes, wet dog, and dog urine (thank you Buster for deciding your bed was an appropriate place to pee when you didn’t want to go out in the rain). Abby’s exterior was covered with Amish country road apples (horse crap), road salt, grease, dirt, and sea spray. A little bit of elbow grease and a truck wash cleaned Abby right up. And freed of the trailer, Abby was down right sporty in handling and acceleration.

Day 25: 01/20/2016 – Davis, CA

Day25RouteDestination: Davis, CA

Route: I-280N, I-80E, CA-24E, I-680N, I-80E

Mileage: 99 miles

Our last day on the road! At least for a while. We are three days short of a full four weeks on this adventure. Abby just needs to get us 99 more miles before she gets to rest. We need to be in Davis by 1:30 to meet our landlord Karen and collect keys. Should be easy right?

Looking at the map, we notice we pass through Concord, CA. Which just so happens to be the home of a More Beer flagship store. That is just too tempting to pass up. So we stop. And fritter away time deciding what all grain kits to purchase (our recipe books are in the trailer, somewhere, so to take it easy on our travel fried brains, a kit it is). Alex plays happily with the assortment of toys and chalk that the store has in child friendly area, so we have some uninterrupted shopping time. We finally pay attention to the time and realize Google Maps estimates we have 75 more minutes of driving. Quickly adding 10% to that time to account for Abby’s slower speed, we realize we should have left 5 minutes ago. We weigh our grains, pay, collect Alex, and return to the road.

We make relatively good time, even after stopping to pay a $15 toll for I-80. The road after the toll was smooth, so it is money well spent. We arrive in our new neighborhood, immediately dropping home values with road grime covered Abby and trailer. After going through the house with Karen and paying February rent, we squeeze Abby and the trailer in the driveway and start unpacking.

It is a bit surreal standing in a kitchen that is approximately 3 times larger than the living space we have in Abby. Not being able to get milk out of the fridge while sitting at the dining room table is going to take some getting used to.

We are home.

Day 24: 01/19/2016 – Half Moon Bay State Beach

Day24RouteDestination: Half Moon Bay State Beach

Route: CA 1-N

Mileage 57 miles

Our lightest mileage day by far! Why not push on to Davis and get into our rental? We had an additional visit built in to our itinerary, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Rather than inconvenience our landlady, we opted to stay another night on the road. We have stayed in the area previously and wanted to come back. And the nice thing about a short drive is we can have a leisurely morning.

Water action shot!
Water action shot!
Happiness is running through a puddle.
Happiness is running through a puddle.
Dave enjoying the rain while breaking camp.
Dave enjoying the rain while breaking camp.

It rained rather vigorously overnight and we woke up to lots of puddles. Alex had a wonderful time splashing in puddles and just enjoying the morning. As always, good things must come to an end and we need to leave before we overstay check out time. But, we also need to kill time before we can check in at Half Moon Bay State Beach. And it has started to rain again. So what to do with a toddler and rain when all you have is an RV?

Alex at the Santa Cruz Children's Museum of Discovery.
Alex at the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery.

We decide to go to the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery, located in the local mall. We are there about 15 minutes before the museum opens, so we wander about the mall while avoiding the walkers. Alex discovers that a mall is a fabulous echo chamber, much like Carlsbad Caverns and really exercises his lungs while practicing his screeches. After an eternity, the museum opens and Alex settles in with the kinetic sand and Lego cars and has a really great time. 90 minutes occupied, we head back to Abby and grab lunch. We get to witness two gentlemen yelling at each other in a travel lane after what seems to be a minor fender bender. Nothing like creating a risk of a larger accident so you can chew some one out in traffic.

We arrive at Half Moon Bay State Beach and find our campsite. Be sure to have your reservation number handy, the park ranger actually asked for it upon check in. We get settled and discover that the beach is just on the other side of the dune. Unfortunately, no pets allowed so the pups stay in the RV while we take Alex to the beach. He really does not like sand in between his toes and insists on being carried. We head back to Abby to get Alex’s wagon and take the pups to the dog beach. There is a coastal walking trail that dogs are allowed on and it is about a 20 minute walk to the dog friendly beach. But what they don’t tell you is the coastal walkway is on along a cliff edge that with recent rains, has erode. Nothing to undermine the path, but getting very close to the path and is not safe with a curious toddler that doesn’t want to stay in his wagon. We decide to head back to Abby and play the fun game of ‘Identify the Source of the Dog Urine Smell’. Which just happens to be Buster’s bed.

Day 22 & 23: 01/17 & 01/18/2016 – New Brighton Beach State Park

Day22RouteDestination: New Brighton Beach State Park

Route: CA 1-N

Mileage: 162

We are on the road again! We take a leisurely morning to get underway, and we still break camp faster than the boy scouts and are impressed with ourselves. Today is a low mileage day but a long hours day. We are flogging Abby up the Pacific Coast highway and through Big Sur today.

Day starts out overcast and pretty gentle in regard to terrain. Only thing we have to content with are the elephant seal tourists. What are they you ask? Apparently it is the high season for viewing elephant seals. They come right out of the water and relax along the coast. The tourists do some crazy late braking to get into their ideal turn out for viewing. Makes driving behind them in Abby with the trailer quite interesting. The elephant seals are impressive. While we do not stop, we have plenty of opportunities to view them.

Once we reach Ragged Point, the road becomes more interesting. The grades increase and so do the twists and turns. To add to the challenge is what started out as a grey and overcast day has become rain. Nothing torrential, but enough to be increase the level of difficulty. We will keep our complaints to a minimum. California desperately needs the rain after a decade of below average winter rain totals and snow pack, with the last 4 years being especially devastating. It would be nice to see the view, but there will be other trips.

We stop for lunch at Nepenthe in Big Sur. Despite the weather, it was still a 30 minute wait for a table which Alex happily spent splashing in puddles on the viewing deck. The view was only of clouds and drizzle, but the puddle selection is extensive. Being original people, Dave and Jess both got the Ambrosiaburger and the ‘adult’ hot chocolate. Alex loved the fresh squeezed orange juice. Getting on the road after lunch, we look at the map and realize we are only halfway through our day. And it took 3 hours to achieve the half way point. Speedy we are not.

Alex looking at the Pacific.
Alex looking at the Pacific.

We arrive at New Brighton Beach State Park after the entrance station has closed. We find our spot and do a quick loop around the parking lot to discover that a spot on the bluff is available. We grab it and fall asleep that night to the Pacific and rain on Abby’s roof. The next morning we wake up to sun and discover the site we are in is only available for one night. Also, the state of California classifies out-of-state checks as ‘foreign’. We find out there are different bluff overlook spots available Monday night, so we cancel our inland spot and take the second spot on the waiting list. We have to be back at the entrance station at 2 pm for a chance at one of the premium spots. We head out and about into Santa Cruz.

Dave and Alex walking across the beach.
Dave and Alex checking out the sand.
Dave and Alex checking out the sand.

The day is turning out quite nice, so we head down to the boardwalk. The rides have not opened for the day, but that is not our goal. We want to dip Alex’s toes into the Pacific. Alex seems to be a little bit overwhelmed, but with some coaxing, walks with Dave towards the ocean. He is less than impressed when the waves wash over his toes

Happy men.
Happy men.

and wants to be picked up. Beach fun over, we head back to Abby and the dogs to sort out lunch plans. We originally wanted to go to Sante Adarius, but the trip coordinator overlooked the fact that the brewery is closed on Mondays. Whoops.  Nils, who used to live in the area, recommended Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (SCMB). They do allow dogs in their outside beer garden, but our three fur beasts are too much to control with Alex. Back to Abby the pack goes.

SCMB event for women.

SCMB makes fabulous beers. On the recommendation of Nils, we try the chocolate pumpkin beer and enjoy it immensely. We get a growler to go. SCMB partners with Kelly’s French Bakery for food service. And the food is absolutely delicious. We are very glad we stopped here for lunch. We look at the time and need to get to the park entrance station for the opportunity to get a new spot.

Abby at New Brighton Beach State Park.

We arrive at the entrance station with about 5 minutes to spare. Promptly at 2 pm, the ranger does a roll call of the waiting list. The people at the top of the list selects their new spot – and it is not our preferred pick! We grab our preferred bluff spot and head off to our new site, which is larger a more private than our previous night’s spot. We wander down the trail to the beach with dogs and Alex. Chewie is rather unsure of the ocean and Penny is willing to get her feet wet. We spend the rest of the day relaxing.


Day 21: 01/16/2016 – Morro Bay State Park

Day21RouteDestination: Morro Bay State Park

Route: CA-62W, I-10W, I-210W, US-101N, CA-1N

Mileage: 318

Hello to three weeks on the road! We are in the home stretch now and getting a bit antsy. Today we make our turn towards the north and head up the coast. We have to hang the right, otherwise Abby’s tires will get wet in the ocean.

It is going to be a long day on the road, so we are up and out for an early start. Because Jess likes the morning shift, she gets to drive through LA. Alright, technically not the heart of LA, but to the north on 210, but close enough. We are surprised that at 100 miles out from LA and we are already on a ten lane road (5 in either direction) and, that on a Saturday morning traffic was surprisingly heavy.

We push on, an make it through LA. We decide to stop for lunch and realize we are only halfway to our destination and it feels like we have been on the road all day. We find an In-N-Out Burger to see what all the hype is about. The parking lot is small and we replace conversion van towing a trailer and take up six spots. The line is impressive, but not surprising given it is noon and this seems like a popular spot for sports teams after their morning games are finished. Maybe it is because we don’t know about the ‘secret’ menu yet, but color us unimpressed. Instead of saying what you want on a burger, you get to tell the cashier what you want left off a burger. There’s not a lot on it, so if you aren’t a picky eater, the list won’t be long. If you are a picky eater, the list won’t be long either. Our burgers and fries in hand, we had back to the RV and head over to Costco to eat and do some stock up shopping (We are out of Greenies, have been for over a week and have been on the receiving end of some very dirty looks from the dogs.)

Leaving the In-N-Out burger experience for a moment, let us shift topics to Costco in California. The selection and quality of goods is quite impressive. The outdoor furniture selection is extensive. There is significant amounts of organic produce and the baked goods aisle . . . just amazing. No time for gawking though, we need to shop at get back on the road.

Returning to the In-N-Out burger, opinions averaged a slightly positive ‘meh’. Dave enjoyed the burger more than Jess, who thought the hype was overblown for the equivalent of a McDonald’s burger. Agreement was reached on the fries; they are abysmal. Just go to Five Guys.

We arrive in Morro Bay State Park around 5 pm. Tired and a couple cars ahead of us at the entrance station is an RV that is truly struggling with the idea that there are no available sites for a walk-up camping. Looking at the brimming campground, we realize it is a long weekend due to Martin Luther King Day. We pull into our site to find that we are surrounded on all sides by a Boy Scout troop, who have spilled over into our site. Rules regarding maximum campsite occupancy are being egregiously flaunted. Whether this is due to the holiday weekend or is the normal state of this campground, we cannot say. The showers were meh. Difficult to control the temperature and the shower heads are difficult to aim so you are not pressed up against the wall. The positive is the showers and bathrooms are single uni-sex stalls. Also, make sure you have quarters, since these are coin operated showers.

We have no complaints with the sunset. The campground is along a golf course that is part of the park. And we are able to take the dogs for a nice walk among the trees at the edge of the course as Alex plays on the logs.

Alex at sunset along Morro Bay.
Family selfie during sunset at Morro Bay.

Day 20: 01/15/2016 – Joshua Tree National Park

Day20RouteDestination: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

Route: I-10W, National Park Roads

Mileage: 133 miles                                New state: California

Dutch and his pup.
Dutch and his pup.

It is time to hit the road again! But before we go we spend the morning hanging out with Marilee and the Toyota crew. They are great people and it is educational to check out their rigs to see the modifications they made and pick up tips on living in a condensed space. One such person is Dutch. A Texan who met his wife in Colorado (where she is visiting family at the time of our stop in Quartzsite), they sold their house and became rubber tramps a couple of years ago. Great person to get ideas from and learn about full-time RV living. We finish up our time in Quartzsite chatting with Marilee; we need to leave in relatively good order so we can grab a site in the first come first serve Jumbo Rocks campground.

Lunch of champions: pulled pork fries and funnel cake.
Lunch of champions: pulled pork fries and funnel cake.

As we are leaving, we decide to stop at our favorite food truck and get lunch for the road. Abandoning the poutine, we opt for the pulled pork fries and the funnel cake. Lunch of champions people. Alex got fries and pulled pork, but fruit is substituted for the funnel cake. Alex falls asleep with bits of pork on his shirt, which Penny so kindly cleans (very gently, can’t wake the toddler) off of him.

Follow the green signs!
Hello California! So glad we made it.

As we approach the highway, it is straight ahead, at full speed! California, here we come! Approximately 30 minutes on the road, we see the sign we have spent 20 days driving towards – the California state line! We still have a hurdle to cross before we can be officially admitted into the state – the agricultural inspection station. As we slow down to stop, the agent just waves us through and seems annoyed that we slowed down. Onward!

We reach exit 168 that will take us into Jumbo Rocks. As we are approaching the park entrance, who do we see boon-docking on BLM land? The Wynns from Gone with the Wynns! The solar array on their motorhome and teal logo on their smart car are pretty solid identifiers. Full-timers in a class A, we have picked up helpful tips and hints from their website. Especially in the regard to solar power and coach batteries. A quick stop to say hi and thanks for the inspiration, and we are on the road enter Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is located where the Mojave (western half of park, 3000 feet plus above sea level) and Colorado (eastern half of park, below 3000 feet above sea level) deserts converge. Mojave flora includes pinyon pines, junipers, scrub oaks, Mojave yuccas, Mojave prickly pear cacti, Parry’s nolina, and, of course, the Joshua tree (a species of yucca). Mojave fauna includes antelope ground squirrel, yucca night lizard, black-tailed jackrabbit, common raven, American kestrel, loggerhead shrike, red-tailed hawk, Scott’s oriole, western screech owl, and the southwester speckled rattlesnake. The Colorado desert’s flora includes palo verde, ocotillo, smoke tree, brittlebush, chuparosa, sand verbena, pencil cholla, and dune primrose. The kit fox, kangaroo rat, zebratail lizard, LeConte’s thrasher, tiny checkerspot butterfly, and the western diamondback rattle snake are the fauna that inhabit the Colorado desert.

The piles of boulders are impressive to see.  The rocks are granite, formed by magma intruding on the Pinto genesis formation underground. As the granite cooled, horizontal and vertical cracks were formed. As the granite was uplifted, ground water caused chemical weathering, which widened the cracks and rounded the edges. The soil eroded, resulting in the heaps of monzogranite seen today.

We arrive at Jumbo Rocks, and there aren’t many spots left. Fortunately, there are a couple of other campground options that we drove by that seemed sparsely populated with campers. Luck was on our side, and we found a spot to wedge ourselves into. Not nearly as bad as our first night at Big Bend, but not ideal. After we settle in, we take a short hike to Skull Rock. Nothing too strenuous and it gets us out of the RV after the day’s drive. We don’t want to be gone too long since there is a special program at the amphitheater tonight.

While we are eating dinner, there is a knock on the door. It was Ranger Doug informing us about the program at the amphitheater. We had planned on going, hence the early dinner time, and finish up so we can be on time. The desert night is a bit chilly, so we bundle up and walk to the amphitheater. Ranger Doug is traveling across the country informing people about the posters the WPA (remember those school lessons about the New Deal?) printed for the National Parks between 1938 and 1941. Many of the original posters have been lost or forgotten in archives. Multiple versions for a single park have also been discovered. It is a fascinating talk at the time and effort into the reproduction process is staggering. If the opportunity presents itself to hear Ranger Doug speak, one should seize it; he is enthusiastic in his mission and knowledgeable. As always, it is early to bed, for what we hope is an early to rise.

Day 19: 01/14/2016 – Quartzsite, AZ

Destination: Quartzsite, AZ Day19Route

Route: I-10W

Mileage: 238

We are on the road again after a hospitality filled stop with Nils and Felicia! We are off to Quartzsite, AZ to meet Dave’s cousins Tom and Marilee at an RV rally for Toyota chassis RVs. We will be parking in the SOB (Some Other Brand) section of the Toyota group, which we can only hope is not next to portable toilets.

Quartzsite’s population, as determined by the 2010 census, was 3,677. The population swells during the winter months as RV, looking to escape the snow and cold, descend like locusts to enjoy average high temperatures in the mid-60s to mid-70s. Folks leave before the summer heat begins.  National Geographic Magazine sets the scene.

By mid-January the mechanical car counter at the Interstate 10 exit is ticking off 26,000 vehicles a day. Within weeks 175,000 RVs cram inches apart into 9 trailer parks, onto front yards, and spill out seven miles on either side of town. Every year more than a million people reset their internal navigation and drive from Everywhere, North America, to this western Arizona dot on the map. Luxury motor homes, fifth wheels, cab-over campers, trailers, and converted school buses plunk down on the same patch of land.

Abby hiding among the Toyotas

We arrive and are welcomed warmly by the group. Abby is a giant among the Toyotas and we tuck ourselves in at the end of the area roped off for the group. There is nary a porta-potty in sight. Marilee is still traveling from Pasadena, CA, so we settle in and decide to go exploring.

Driver side of the converted school bus.
Passenger side of the converted school bus.

The National Geographic description is spot on. RVs keep pouring into campsites in town as well as heading to the surrounding BLM land. And they are coming in various shapes and sizes. Our walk down down the main drag brings us across this converted school bus. Not the most luxurious vehicle out there, but it gets the job done. The artwork is rather impressive. We are thrilled when we discover a food truck with poutine! True poutine with cheese curds, it is not. But the fries are hand cut and the gravy is quite decent. It is topped with mozarella cheese, but we can’t be poutine purists in Arizona. It is a fantastic mid-afternoon snack and Alex approves.

Refreshed, we continue our wanderings. If you need to find something for your RV, there is likely a vendor here selling the part or can get the part for you. Crossing Central Boulevard, the swap meet expands to epic proportions. If you need some sort of mineral, you need to visit Quartzsite. We start browsing the display trailers at the RV show; no intent to replace Abby, just curious to see what is out there and we don’t make it past the fifth wheels. There are some appealing floor plans, like the one with a second bedroom. It might be nice sleeping more than 3 feet away from Alex.

Converted buses in Quartzsite, AZ

With the display trailers being locked up, we abandon exploring and head back to camp to chat with Marilee and get dinner going. The converted bus contingent has grown stronger in our absence.


Day 17 & 18: 01/12 & 01/13/2016 – Oro Valley, AZ

Destination: Oro Valley, AZ Day17Route

Route: US-60W, NM-12E, US-180E, AZ-78W, US-191S, I-10W

Mileage: 390 miles

New state: Arizona

We have a schedule to keep, and Guy and Sharon have commitments. We had a wonderful visit and hit the road around 9 am. Guy gave us some excellent advice on a scenic route to Oro Valley. Since we can’t achieve 65 mph anyway on the highway anyway, the scenic route fits right into our agenda.

Cell phone photo of the VLA.

The drive does not disappoint. We drive by the NRAO Very Large Array (VLA – think the movie ‘Contact’) and are surprised that it is so compact. We cross railroad tracks and discover, with a bit of research, that the tracks are for moving the arrays around the valley. There are beautiful high mountain meadows along the drive.


We see snow again the Gila National Forest, and, alas for Penny, do not stop. It should be noted that this part of the trip is pretty desolate and there are not many opportunities for gas and even fewer for diesel. We are glad for the topped of tank before leaving Socorro and stop in Safford, AZ to fill up and purchase Powerball tickets (did not win).

On I-10, it is very strange to see so much traffic after the isolation in West Texas and New Mexico. We arrive at our friends Nils and Felicia’s house around 7 to a delicious dinner. The dogs are thrilled to be allowed into the house; all our previous stops they stayed in the RV overnight. Alex is put to bed and laundry is done while catching up.

Dave hard at work at RestoCycle

The next day, Nils takes Dave to visit his business, RestoCycle, which does  vapor blasting and restores Japanese motorcycles. Jess, sensing that this trip could take awhile, opts to relax at the house with Alex and Felicia. This is a wise call because Dave is shanghaied into motorcycle repair. Although, one could argue, he seems awful happy about it. Another fantastic dinner and off for to sleep on a real mattress one last time before our final week in the RV. It was a great rejuvenation stop with Nils and Felicia.

Day 15 & 16: 01/10 & 01/11/2016 – Socorro, NM

Destination: Socorro, NMDay15Route

Route: US-285N, US-380W, I-25N

Mileage: 236

Today we head to Socorro, NM to visit with Dave’s cousin Guy and Guy’s wife Sharon. They have horses so we have been working hard with Alex that horses are not cows and therefore say ‘neigh’ not ‘moo’. It doesn’t appear to be sticking.

We arrive to a warm welcome and settle in. We originally planned to stay in the RV, but after looking at the weather forecast, we opt for the guest house. The temperatures are supposed to drop into the high teens, too cold for us to stay in Abby.

Settlement on our house is coming up in a few days. We confirm we filled out the paperwork properly and fax the notarized documents back to Dave’s real estate office in Delaware.

After a relaxing dinner, we break out Horse Monopoly once Alex is down for the night. It is a game filled with shifting alliances, business deals gone bad, and a mega-merger. The conglomerate is successful in driving the smaller mom and pop shop out of business and the conversations are a bit testy by the end of the night. Best quote of the night is aimed at Guy by his daughter. ‘It is awful convenient that you decide to become a Democrat in order to win at Horse Monopoly.’

Alex hiking in a Canyon near Socorro, NM.
Alex hiking in a Canyon near Socorro, NM.

Monday we take the dogs and Alex for a hike on some BLM land with Guy and Sharon. The dogs are thrilled to run around and Penny even got to roll in snow that remained in the shady portions of the canyon. Alex is so tired, he falls asleep after 5 minutes in the car.

Later that day we go to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The sandhill cranes aren’t cooperating, but we see a blue heron, ducks (so many ducks), and a mule deer. On the bright side, Alex can clearly identify a horse and even clucked at the chickens.

We have a fabulous time, but need to hit the road again January 12 so Guy and Sharon can return to their regular schedule and to make sure we arrive on time in Davis.

Quotes from Stairway to Heaven

‘. . . There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving . . . . Yes, there are two paths you can go by but in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on . . .’

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin