Our trip down the last bit of the west coast of the USA was mostly uneventful. The day started off on small highways with nice cruising before we descended into the driving hell that is the Interstates of Southern California. There were some white-knuckle moments, some nearly missed turns and one missed turn that thankfully didn’t involve too much difficulty in getting back on course. By mid afternoon we were at Pio Pico Resort. Our second Thousand Trails resort stay. Here, about half of the sites have sewer connections and half don’t. The South half is generally nicer with the sewer connections, better cell service and more green space. The North half is across the road from the rest of the resort (including most of the kid activities) and, well, doesn’t have the things the South half does. One thing about Thousand Trails is you can’t reserve a specific site, they only guarantee that you’ll have a site somewhere. The South half was full when we arrived and remained so the entire time we were here, so initially we wound up on the North side. We found an open pull-through site and started getting settled. Minutes after Crayton went out to play, he found himself in a red ant nest under a bush and got bit up pretty good, but recovered quickly and avoided that bush like the plague afterwards. We also found we had zero internet service. Not a good start to our stay here. They have a ‘crossover’ program, though, to get over to the south side. Each morning they post the site numbers that will open that day and if you’d asked to be put on the list, you come back at 9 and they’ll call names from the list in order added to the list and you get to pick from the remaining open sites until there are no more sites. If you didn’t get called you can come back the next day. We decided to get on the list as the honey-wagon fee was $25 and we were going to be here for a while.
Since we’d arrived on a Monday and I had to work the next day, I immediately set about seeing if we could get online. From the reviews, we knew the North side would be difficult and sure enough the signal was too weak to be usable. I’d been planning for some time to move the cell booster antenna from the ladder on the back of the camper (with cables strung across our living space using clothes hangers) to a more permanently mounted location on our TV antenna mast. So Monday night I managed to get off an email to work saying I was taking some unplanned PTO and first thing Tuesday morning I set about moving the antenna. Sure enough, that was the trick and we were able to get reliable service once I finished the move. That morning, I also went for the crossover call and got lucky enough to get to move over on our first day. It was kind of a pain to have to pack up and move across the street the first day we were there, but I knew we’d be happier on the South side.
The newly mounted cell booster antenna
Monday night after dark we noticed another Grand Design Reflection camper move in a few sites down from us and we were fairly sure it was the same model as us. Tuesday while I was putting up the antenna, Pam spotted them outside and went over to chat. Turns out it was also a 367bhs! They were a Canadian fulltime family with two girls around 9 and 11. Pam calls me over to say hi as I’m finishing up and as soon as I get over there, I recognize the guy as being from a youtube video we’d watched a dozen or two times. They had done a great walk-through video of their camper right when they first got it and we used that video a lot as we were deciding on which camper to buy. Small world! We hung out a bit with Brooke and Ian and their girls Aayla and Sierra while we were here. Crayton got to be pretty close with Aayla. I think he’s on his 10th ‘best friend’ of the trip :) They're in the process of buying a campground north of Toronto that they'll run in the summertime. Can't wait to head up north sometime and fill a site for them for a few weeks!
Being a holiday week and having taken an unexpected day of PTO, my work obligations were soon over and we got to start exploring more. There were lots of kids here and a youth center with lots of activities, even a heated pool. This is easily the most kid-friendly place we’ve yet stayed. While grocery shopping Tuesday night, Crayton was drawn to the cakes in the bakery and said he wanted to get one for his new friends. I realized the next day, Wednesday, was his ‘half birthday’, so I justified spoiling him a bit by agreeing to buy a small cake that we could share with his new friends. Wednesday came, though, and for the life of us we couldn't find the kids that we’d been playing with just the day before, and a very disappointed Crayton had to wait another full day before getting to share his cake with his new friends. There were real tears shed over cake-gate.
The Christmas tree we’d bought back in Olema wasn’t faring too well since we’d not been able to water it and we decided we wanted a tree indoors, so a last-minute trip to a local True Value Hardware store yielded their floor-model pre-lit small artificial tree at a steep discount. We’ve been buying Christmas tree ornaments at many of the places we’ve visited, so this was another chance to get them out and relive our adventures so far. We hope that doing this, as well as showing him pictures we’ve taken and going through our smooshed-penny collection will help him retain memories of the trip. Being only 4, we know long term memories are not easily made so maybe this will help. In any event, he was thrilled to have a tree and it certainly did start to really make it feel like Christmas. My incessantly playing the XM “Holiday Traditions” channel may have helped, too :)
Our New Christmas Tree!
Christmas itself was nice. Christmas eve we went out and saw the new movie “Sing” at a local theater, continuing a family tradition of going to a theater on Christmas Eve “so it makes the time fly and Santa can come quicker”. Christmas day was a lazy day of opening presents, eating too much and just lazing about. As it should be. Crayton was a hoot opening his presents. With each one, he’d exclaim “Wow! This is the best present ever!” Before tearing into the next one and repeating himself. We struggled with how to give him a few presents to open but not cram the RV full of a bunch of stuff that we’d just spent a summer getting rid of. The key is small, age-appropriate toys and games that we can donate as he gets too old for them. We don’t need to hoard old toys. we even got him a few board games, which I’m excited about. Pam has never been much of a game player, but I love games and can’t wait to play them with Crayton assuming he enjoys them as well.
Crayton Christmas Morning!
Over the Christmas break I also finished a longstanding project I’d had planned. I built a new shelf above the existing desk in the bunkhouse and relocated all of the computer, server and network gear there, freeing up the desk for Crayton and giving that gear a more secure, permanent home. I also hard wired in four Cat-6 ethernet jacks. One in the bedroom, one by my desk and two in the living room for the Roku and XBox. Now all the core devices are wired into the network, leaving wireless for our phones and tablets. We’ve found that in crowded campgrounds, the available wireless bandwidth can be lacking to the point that the Roku’s won’t stream, even from our local NAS server. This will finally solve that problem. I’ll write up a post sometime about all the network gear I’ve installed to stay online and entertained.
We'd planned to stay here two weeks and then move to a KOA closer to downtown San Diego, but now we were here and saw how great the park was, had made some friends, and knew that is wasn't as far from town as we'd thought. So we cancelled that reservation and extended our stay here another week. That turned out to be a great choice. Saved us a bunch of money and the extra downtime was nice.
The week between Christmas and New Years was fairly quiet. I only had to work two days and we spent our time working on projects around the camper and getting to know the other families staying here. Thursday, we went on our first real excursion and went to the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park outside of Escondido. It was awesome. I went with my niece and nephew to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida shortly after it opened and this was just as good if not better. They seemed to be more genuinely interested in conservation and saving endangered species instead of just entertaining folks, but it was also a LOT of fun. Crayton loved seeing the Rhinos and Elephants the most, I think, but he truly enjoyed all of it. It’s been a lot of fun watching his interest level in the world around him grow and grow as he does. It’s amazing to me the things he already knew before we got there (thanks Wild Krats and Octonauts and … ). For instance, he knew that Ostriches were birds that can’t fly and offered that information up before we had a chance to tell him. After a long day there, we drove into Escondido to meet Wendy and Alan, the friends we’d visited in Tacoma, WA a couple months earlier as they were down this way visiting Alan’s family for the holidays. We met them at the Stone Brewery and what a cool place it was. The outdoor dining area was beautiful, with fireplaces, koi ponds, winding paths and lawn areas all nicely lit and lovely. You’d never know it driving by as it’s in an industrial part of town and hidden behind some tall evergreen bushes. Totally worth going. The food was great and the selection of beers at the restaurant as well as in the store for growler fills was impressive. We were an hour late for our meeting with Wendy and Alan due to a miscommunication. Sorry guys!
At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Friday we went downtown to check out Old Town San Diego. We drove right in with no traffic issues at all. So far I've been impressed by the apparent lack of traffic in San Diego considering the size of the city. We walked around checking out shops and various exhibits and old buildings. Really neat to see what the area may have looked like shortly after the founding of the city. Even saw the oldest brick building in the SouthWest. After a few hours, Crayton spotted one of those tourist trolley cars that you can take to see all the sights. We hadn't planned to ride one but it seemed like it might be fun, so we told Crayton that after we found his piñata (another story), we'd stop back and see about taking a ride.
Old Town San Diego
About the piñata... Crayton has a book called "Cinco De Mouso" about a mouse's adventures during a Cinco De Mayo celebration including the breaking of a piñata and finding the last piece of candy. He's always wanted a piñata since then. We were going to get one for my birthday, but there weren't any other kids around and it didn't feel right. Here, however, there were a ton of kids and being just a few miles from the border we figured we'd be in piñata heaven, so we decided to get one for New Years. Old Town, of all places, seemed like the sort of place that would have a TON of piñata for sale. We found ... one. An adorable little donkey. So we adopted him (at least until we get a chance to beat him to pieces) and grabbed a bunch of American and Mexican candies to stuff him with.
Heading back to the trolley car stand, it turns out it would have been > $125 for the three of us. Much more than we were prepared to spend, so we decided against it. Crayton immediately started throwing a fit. Can't say I blame him as many train-like things we've taken him on. I'd expect it too. His whole day was thrown off and there didn't seem to be a way to get him back into enjoying things, when I remembered there was a stop for the 'real trolley', i.e. the San Diego commuter train system just a quarter mile away. We strolled over there, bought two $5 tickets and rode a giant loop around the city. Crisis averted. Curious to explore a bit, we got off at a downtown stop and walked over to the Seaport Village. I hadn't heard of it before, we were just trying to get to the shore, but what a neat little area. Great little shops, restaurants, walking along the docks, seeing the fishermen come in. We walked down to the USS Midway, but by then it was too late in the day to do a full tour. Crayton loved seeing the giant boat even from the dock. We'll have to put a tour like that on our list for later. Then we walked over to the Santa Fe Depot, which interestingly enough was featured in an episode of Choo Choo Bob, bringing us to five or six places we've been to that have been on the show. The station is just gorgeous a lovely example Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. After ogling a bit, we hopped back on the train back up to Old Town to complete the loop. We had a great Mexican dinner at, appropriately enough, a great restaurant called La Piñata and headed back home after a long day.
The Old San Diego Santa Fe Depot
New Years Eve I spent the day installing our new Entertainment system. The stock equipment that came with the RV was junk, so it was time for an upgrade. I'll blog about the project separately (is that two or three blog posts I've promised in this post...). The resort had some activities planned but by mid-day it was pouring rain and we just didn't feel like getting out, so we decided to stay in and catch the Phish New Years concert webcast on the new entertainment system. We overestimated how good our cell signal was, though and we weren't able to get the video stream, so we aborted that mission and just hung out. Crayton and Pam turned in early, but I managed to make it to Midnight, barely.
New Years Day was piñata time! We found our friends the Fosters and a new friend Leah and her daughter, filled up the piñata and let the kids have at it! They all seemed to really enjoy it and I'm hoping this scratches Crayton's piñata itch for a while. One of the oddball Mexican candies I picked up was a lemon salt lick powder thing. I love all things lemon so was curious. It was foul. Can't even begin to describe it. A couple of the kids managed to finish a pack, but I couldn't.
New Years Piñata !
Monday we decided to use the second-half of our two-day San Diego Zoo passes and went to the actual San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park. That was an amazing experience. I'm not a big Zoo guy, but this one was well done. They are clearly conservation focused and seem to have their heart in the right place. The exhibits were clean, appropriate and at least attempted to mimic the animals natural habitat. Still, it's hard not to feel sorry for a polar bear in Southern California. Crayton was a trooper and kept a positive attitude almost the entire long day. We even let him get his face painted as a Tiger for being so good. We were all bushed by mid afternoon, so we spent the rest of the day riding the tour buses they run around the park, just soaking it all in.
The Balboa Park Train done up for the Holidays
Tuesday it was time for Pam's Christmas present. One big item on her 'bucket list' is to see a whale in the wild. So I got us tickets for a whale-watching tour. We headed down to the marina and got on board The Privateer for our three hour tour (ominous sounding, no small tropical islands in our future i hope ;) ) Almost immediately, we encountered sea lions and two species of Dolphins all feeding. Almost every day int eh last week, the tour had seen Grey Whales and the week before they saw Humpbacks, so we were hopeful, but we struck out on whales this trip. It was still a beautiful day on the water and we saw LOTS of dolphins. Not a wasted trip by any stretch and now we have an excuse to take another tour sometime to try and see whales.
After a nice lunch at the Red Marlin nearby, we headed back to Balboa Park hoping to catch the Model Train Museum before it closed for the day. When we got to the park, though, it was a madhouse! We were just there the day before for the zoo and it wasn't bad at all. Today, for some reason, there were cars everywhere and there was virtually no parking to be found. Pam did some Googling and determined that the first Tuesday of the month admission is free to all the museums for San Diego residents. Looks like we picked the wrong day. We did manage to park, quite a ways away, and get over to the museum about an hour before closing. Felt weird being the only ones having to pay, but we're glad we did. It was a great place with several huge layouts including one of the Tehachapi Loop and a classic three-rail O-gauge 'holiday' layout that Crayton loved. It was neat also to see my old, lost, friend Ben's dad Chuck on the list of benefactors of the museum. I know they lived in the area for a long time (might still?) and his dad was a big model train buff.
Family Selfie at Balboa Park
A quick three-day work week was followed by our last weekend in San Diego. Saturday we headed down to Campo to see the train museum there and take a ride on their train. It was one of the cheaper tourist trains we've been on, but fun and scenic. The trip ended at the entrance to a tunnel before backing our way back to the station. The other end of tunnel is in Mexico. They do occasionally run trips that go through, from what I gather, and then all the way to Tecate where they stop for a while to shop and visit the brewery. That would have been a neat trip. Upon returning we toured their collection of engines and cars before heading down to the border itself to see the Monument for the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. We have several good friends who have hiked the trail and a long distance hike like this is on our bucket list once Crayton is older and assuming we're healthy and capable by then. It was neat to see it and read through the register. Also kind of surreal to see the border itself. It felt like something out of a war movie or a Mad Max movie with the large metal fence, the guard tower on the hill and the wide dirt road for the border patrol. The fence itself was nothing that grand, just sheet metal and some barbed wire. We took a peek through and when asking Crayton what he thought he said "We can't go in there'. From the mouths of babes...
He really was having a good time
The end of the line. A Tunnel to Mexico
Checking out the rest of the collection
Family Selfie at the PCT Terminus
Sunday we took it easy, fueled up, cleaned up and got ready to move on Monday. The trip East is beginning!