Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Headed Home

For the last few days we have been in the Napa Valley at Calistoga, CA and then in Reno, NV.

We have enjoyed some wonderful scenery, a realistic replica of a 13th century Tuscan castle winery, getting to visit with a long-time friend of Sandy's in Reno and some wonderful food and wines.

While we were in Napa we decided to do a "touristy thing" and go visit Castello de Amorosa.  The castle cotains121,000 square feet spread among 107 unique rooms on 8 levels -- four of which are underground.  It really is a beautiful place.  What contributes to the beauty of this place is that it was built following old world techniques with a lot of hand methods of construction.  For example, instead of commercially available mortar they mixed lime and sand  to cement bricks and stones in place. 

So, here is the castle
With a real drawbridge over a moat.
And a tower with parapets and slotted windows for archers.
A courtyard, and the most important ---
A dragon.  The blacksmith who made all metal hinges, railings and other iron adornments, made this and several other dragons by hand.
And chickens and roosters to help keep the food pantry stocked. 
And since the castle is a fully functioning winery, here are some of the 30 acres of vines.
Here are some grape clusters almost ready for picking. The winery produces only 15,000 cases of wine each year which -- according to the young man who poured samples for us -- is a mere drop in the bucket. 
And, keeping with the Tuscan theme, there are plenty of olive trees.


As we were leaving Calistoga we came across this whimsical piece of artwork sponsored by the Calistoga Mineral Water Company.


Then we spent a couple of days in Reno and had the chance to visit with Linda McNiff, a good friend of Sandy's from years ago in Chicago.  I am married to the luckiest woman. She can walk into a casino and turn a few dollars into many.  Especially sweet was the fact that Sandy converted the free $10 of money the hotel gave to us for gambling into $54.  The night before she walked away with $80.  I, on the other hand, gave the Pepper Mill Casino $10.  All in all they lost money on the Stoltzes. 

Today we visited the Nevada State Museum and the old Capitol building, both of which are in nearby Carson City.

The museum is housed in the old Carson City Mint (above). Today it houses a treasure trove of Nevada history. Included is a below-ground replica of part of the interior of  The Comstock Lode where I nearly got lost because it had so many passages and tunnels.   Sandy and Linda wisely decided to let me go visit the mine on my own. There were so many neat exhibits that I could not possible do the museum justice, so here are just three photos. 

 This neat Indian motor cycle caught my eye.

This is one of the original coin stamping machines.  Museum employees operate it the first Friday of each month and stamp non-legal tender "coins" for visitors to purchase.  The machine could make 100 silver dollars per hour. 

A collection of pure gold and silver coins minted at the Carson City Mint is on loan from Wells Fargo Bank.  A few of these coins are so rare that they could easily finance your retirement.  
After lunch we walked through the old Nevada capitol building.  It is a beautiful Victorian structure that has been totally renovated into a classic yet fully functioning building for many state government offices. 

Looking ahead....

On our way home we are going to go a little bit out of our way to visit an RV dealer in Lexington, SC.  This dealer has in his inventory a similar model of a travel trailer we might buy next spring so that when we are on the road, we can be actual RVers.  To say nothing of not having to sleep in a different bed every few nights. 

For those of you who are interested you can see this trailer at:

The specifications are very impressive.

We expect to be home August 21.  My next blog entry will be in early 2013.  Bye for now.  It's been a great 3 months on the road. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

From the coast of Northern California

We've been on the Pacific Coast of Northern California for close to two days.  In some ways the scenery is a continuation of what we saw in Oregon, and in other ways it is remarkably different.  We are in Crescent City. 

For one, it is cooler here .... and foggy at times.  By Noon the "marine layer" usually burns off.  Such was the case this morning when we drove through the Stout Grove within the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  All my life I have wanted to see the Redwood Forest and we were not disappointed.  These  coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and they are magnificent and grand.  Some have lived for up to 2,000 years.  I felt awestruck standing in front of these giants.  They are so tall that it is virtually impossible to take a photograph that include all of one tree. 

So I decided to take three photos of a typical redwood.
Obviously, this is the top.

And this is the middle section.

And this is the base.

Last Christmases at Scott and Sandy's home in Cary, IL,  I read a book of theirs called The Wild Trees written by Richard Preston.   Preston tells a spellbinding story about a small group of brave tree climbers who find the tallest trees in the world in the wilds of Northern California and climb to the very tops using only ropes.  In the tree tops they find areas filled with unknown plant life and sufficient space to spend the night camped below the stars. I highly recommend this excellent true story about a lost world above California that is dangerous, hauntingly beautiful and unexplored. 

As we rounded a bend in the narrow road in Stout Grove we saw this guy climbing the face of a section of Redwood.  It gives you an idea of the immensity of these trees.
Sandy jokes about having long arms.  Not nearly long enough to span this tree.

Sandy got this shot of morning fog in the forest. This near constant source of moisture is vital to the life of the Coast Redwoods. 
Additional views of the Coast Redwoods in Stout Grove.

We also were able to spend some time walking the beaches.  The lighthouse at the harbor at Crescent City.
And a close up of the lighthouse. 

Incoming tide
 Seals in the harbor

This seal found a warm spot for a nap.  All over the harbor are signs warning against feeding seals.  They tend to congregate where humans feed them and have been known to ruin piers, according to the signs.
This guy was willing to pose for free.  They ignore the signs.  In fact they poop all over them. 


And finally a photo taken a few days ago of a small waterfall along the Rogue River.
Tomorrow we head southwest and inland. 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Crater Lake: One of Oregon's Crown Jewels

We are now in Medford, Oregon for a few days and this morning we drove the 70 some miles to Crater Lake National Park.  What a magnificent sight.  The first thing we noticed is the deep blue of the water.  So here is a little science lesson for you.  

The water in Crater Lake is extremely pure and so it allows the sunlight to penetrate deep into the water.  The longer wavelengths of light (the reds, yellows, oranges and greens) are absorbed  as they pass through the surface layers while leaving only the blue and violet wave lengths to be redirected back to the surface.  So what we are seeing is the violet and blue colors of the spectrum.   
But around the shallow edges of the lake we saw what we thought was an algae bloom, when in reality it is the green wavelengths being reflected back up. 

On the way to Crater Lake


On the way to Crater Lake we pulled off the highway to see the Rogue Gorge on the wild and scenic Rogue River.  This river transports over 400,000 gallons of water every minute and during the spring melt it is even more.   The noise while loud is very pleasing; something we'd all love to hear each night as we drop off to sleep.
As the eons have passed the Rogue River has eroded a canyon into the rocks below the forest floor.  This section of the canyon wall shows two openings.  The easiest one to see in the photo is at right center.  The opening is actually a lava tube that once carried molten rock during the geologic era when the pacific northwest was dotted with active volcanoes.  The other lava tube has partially collapsed, and you can see it towards the upper left hand corner of the photo.  

And the final portion of this little educational blog concerns "living stumps."

The stump in the foreground continued to live even after the tree was cut down.  The reason is that the root system of some trees become so intertwined that they graft together and continue to provide nourishment to the tree stump even after the tree has been cut down.  Notice how bark has grown over the top of the stump where it was cut off. 

Now back to Crater Lake

One of the things we have enjoyed in the larger national parks is having a meal in the ambiance of the dining rooms in the old lodges.
The dining room in the lodge at Crater Lake is small and very charming.  It is obvious that it has undergone a renovation in recent years with new windows and comfortable chairs and tables.  The food was excellent and the service was very good.

The view outside of our dining room window.
Most of the first floor walls inside of the lodge are covered in pine bark slabs of Douglas Fir.  A warm and inviting look. 
The lodge

This old and gnarled pine tree stubbornly clings to the rim of Crater Lake.  

 Wizard Island is a smaller extinct volcano within Crater Lake.

One last view through the trees. 

Some interesting facts:

Crater Lake is 6 miles wide at the widest point and 4.5 miles at the narrowest.  It holds 1,953 trillion gallons of water and at the deepest point it is 1,943 feet deep. Winters in the park are long and snowy with an average of 44 feet of snow falling at Park Headquarters. 
Elevation at the lodge is about 7100 feet.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Pacific Coast of Oregon

The beach at Lincoln City, Oregon


Ever since we began traveling in an RV in the fall of 2009 we have seen a lot of beautiful natural sights.  It would be difficult for us to name the single most beautiful place we have seen.  There have been so many, but at the top of the list would be Glacier National Park, the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Coast along Oregon.

For the past two days we have been traveling south on U.S. Highway 101.  It is, in some areas, absolutely beyond description.  There is the deep blue of the Pacific, contrasted with the white caps of the waves and in places the buff-colored sand.  Just amazing!  Highway 101 is a pleasure to drive.  It travels through many small towns and it is fun to see the many small unique businesses and attractions.  There are countless pull outs and view points from which we could stop and see the scenery.  This morning  we pulled into a little lookout point and I caught the sight of a whale exhaling a plume of water spray and then saw his tail as he dove under the water.  

And the real estate.  Some of these homes are on bluffs overlooking the Pacific and can best be described as costing a whole lot of money.  

We learned from the motel clerk this afternoon that "summer" here starts around July 4 and continues to the end of September.  The rest of the year it is cool and cloudy and often rainy.

We have had some great seafood and delicious ice cream.  

So here are photos of some of the scenery we have passed by.

Just outside of Astoria, Oregon we visited the Lewis and Clark 
National Historic Park and walked through a replica of Fort Clatsop in which the expedition spent four long months in the winter. 
 The baby stroller is not an artifact
In so many places along the Oregon coast you can see masses of stone rising from the water.  We remarked how dangerous this coast was during the early days of shipping and whaling.  It is still dangerous today, but sonar and good maps make it a lot safer. 

This natural feature is called Devil's Churn because as high tide comes in large flumes of water are ejected into the air.  Too bad we did not get to see this happen.

Tomorrow we head to Medford,Oregon.  Stay tuned.