June 15, 2016 – Plumas Eureka State Park

Route to Plumas Eureka State Park.
Route to Plumas Eureka State Park.

Route: I-80E, CA-49N, CA-89N, A414

Google estimated travel time was approximately 3 hours if we used I-80E for the majority of the trip. On the advice from a friend, we overruled Google Maps and took CA-49N, which would add an estimated 30 minutes to the trip. In Abby, the extra time was closer to an hour. Include the road construction, it was an additional 90 minutes.

CA-49N is a twisty, scenic drive through Tahoe and Plumas National Forests. The road follows various branches of the Yuba River at different points. The river looks to be a kayaker’s and fisherman’s paradise with boulders, fast flowing sections, and large pools. There are multiple opportunities to camp in Sierra County at National Forest campgrounds adjacent to CA-49N. We also saw a number of signs indicating boat launches down lake access roads.

Yes, the route we took came close to forming a circle at the end.

Abby in campsite 36 at Plumas Eureka State Park.
Abby in campsite 36 at Plumas Eureka State Park.

History: The Plumas Eureka State Park region was originally inhabited by the Northern Maidu, who lived along valley edges and hunted in the mountains during the warm seasons. They were known for their coiled and twined baskets and intricate bead-work.

In 1851, the isolation of the Maidu ended when gold was discovered on an exposed quartz ledge of Eureka Peak. The influx of European settlers brought disease, destroyed native food and plant resources, and inflicted violence that was catastrophic to the Maidu population.

Jamison City and Johnsville were established for the miners. Smaller mining companies closed as surface deposits diminished. A British company purchased and consolidated the mines in 1872. The mines operated profitable until 1890 and were sold in 1904. Operations tapered off until they were ended during World War II by the War Production Board Limitation Order. The mines’ 65 miles of tunnels generated more than $8 million in gold, which was processed by the Mohawk Stamp Mill.

To entertain themselves, miners held snowshoe and ski races. In the ski races, competitors could reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. It is believed that the mine tramways may have served as the world’s first ski lifts.

Campground: We weren’t sure what to expect with the Plumas Eureka campground. Experience with CA state parks is approximately 66% positive (Morro Bay, New Brighton State Beach, Half Moon Bay) and we were hoping that after this stay, 3 out of 4 parks would have exceeded expectations. We weren’t disappointed.

The park rangers are VERY serious about protecting bears from habituation to humans. You must read a statement upon check in regarding proper storage of food and trash at your site and the dangers to you and the bear if you do not follow the regulations; there is a $1000 fine if you are found to be in violation of the rules. Your signature on the registration receipt is required to acknowledge the information.

The campground is approximately a mile down the road from the mining museum, located at the base of Mount Eureka, that has the registration window. There is a mix of walk-in only and RV/trailer sites. all sites have a picnic table, fire pit, metal food storage box, and a large level area for tent set up. Despite the scale on the map, all sites are spacious and wooded with various types of trees (white fir, Douglas fir, ponderosa, sugar, Jeffrey, lodge-pole, incense cedar). There are even some giant sequoias and a creek running through the campground. Our spot number was 36, which was a little uneven, but was fixed with blocks under the front tires. Sites 9 – 14, and 19 – 20 are secluded and within easy walking distance to the showers.

The shower facilities were clean, and as of June 2016, free. We did not try them out. California was experiencing unseasonable cold weather and we saw snow flurries our first night. We’re not walking around wet, in the cold, while Abby had a functional shower. The toilet facilities have flush toilets, but no hot water.

Activities: There is a trail from the campground to the museum. The museum is located in the historic miners’ bunkhouse and has natural history exhibits, archaeological finds, mining artifacts, a working scale model of the stamp mill, and hands on exhibits for kids. You can even pan for gold. Some buildings are open in the mining complex, but check with the museum to confirm days and times.

The campground also provides access to the Talking Forest Nature Trail and Grass and Smith Lakes Trail. These trails to exit the state park and enter national forest land. Within the park, there are also trail heads to Eureka Peak Madora Lake, and others into national forest land.

Fishing along Jamison Creek in the park is not always rewarding, but there are other streams and lakes in the area that offer better odds.

Check out The Brewing Lair. It is about a 10 minute drive from the campground at Plumas Eureka State Park. We loved their phenomenal setting and enjoyed their beer. Well done.

Overall: We enjoyed this park. We didn’t hike as much as we would have liked; we are always trying to hit a moving target as Alex abilities and nap schedule change as he grows. A positive experience.

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.