Exploring New Places – Lava Beds National Monument 

We decided to take a long weekend a head to Lava Beds National Monument. Located in the Great Basin Desert, it can get mighty hot there in the summer and freezing in the winter.  It’s one of those places a spring or fall visit seems the best bet for happy campers.
LavaBeds
It is a pretty long haul, so we stayed in a KOA in Shasta City Friday night.  The campground was super cute.  Dirt roads with camp sites set back in the pine trees. Flushing toilets and hot showers.  This is definitely someplace we will stay again.  We were in a rush Saturday morning to get to the Lava Beds, so we grabbed breakfast on the road.  Black Bear Diner is a chain of restaurants that have pretty good food. We stopped there for eggs and the kids dug the bear decore.
KOA
The drive into Lava Beds is pretty awesome.  You pass Mt. Shasta and cut across the Kalamath National Forest Wildlife Refuge and drive past Tule Lake.  There were so many birds in this area.  We saw three bald eagles and a ringnecked pheasant, not to mention a ton of waterfowl.  On your way into the park, you drive through ancient lava flows.  Scattered throughout is Great Basin Sagebrush, Rabbitbush, and various grasses.  It is a harsh but beautiful environment.
The campground at Lava Beds is set in a juniper-brushland.  Hands down, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  The juniper trees and scattered shrubs are so pretty and the campsites are set right under the trees.  There are cool picnic tables built into the rocks and fire rings at each site.  The campground really favors tent campers, but you can find a place for an RV.  The bathrooms are updated and really nice here and they have potable water.  One of the best things –  every morning deer would come through camp.  The kids loved seeing them up close.
Campground
MuleDeer
The Missus’s parents joined us on Saturday.  We spent the afternoon exploring the visitor center and Mushpot Cave.  It was a great introduction to the over 800 caves you can find in the park and it set the kids up for what to expect Sunday.
KidsBackpack
Sunday we borrowed flashlights from the ranger station.  The caves a dark – really, really dark.  Our little headlamps were not going to cut it so we took advantage of the flashlight loaning program offered at the ranger station.  The caves were amazing. They varied so much. Some were steep and deep and required you to walk along metal staircases (Skull Cave).  Others were wide and narrow and you had to duck down to avoid hitting your head.  The caves vary in difficulty so we tried to pick those that weren’t overly challenging for the kids.  I think the coolest thing about the caves was that you would walk right up up it and never see it until you looked down. They were so different from the caves we explored at Pinnacles National Park back in February.
Caves
CavesMetalWalkway
InCave
After lunch back at camp and a little quite time, we took off to explore Captain Jack’s Stronghold.  The Boy was really into Captain Jack.  The Girl and I were not so into the hike.  We were both suffering from post traumatic Snake syndrome.  The trail was perfect snake habitat; rocky and sandy.  I think we were flashing back to Pinnacles.
CaptainJack
Stronghold
Monday we loaded up into Papa’s car and took off for Glass Mountain.  It is a mountain covered in obsidian rock.  Unfortunately there was still snow on the road about three miles left into the drive so we didn’t make it to the mountain. Definitely something we will have to plan for our trip back to the park.  We ended up having lunch in Papa’s camper on the side of the road.  The kids played in the snow and we played the Jelly Belly Beanboozled game.  It turned out to be a really fun day.
Us
GlassMtn
Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies.  Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but it sure looked like rain to us. We packed up quickly and just in time, too.  Just as we were finishing up, a wet snow started to fall.  Boy did we luck out there! With one last cave visit and a stop at the Ranger’s Station for a magnet souvenir, we were ready to head home.
What out of the way National Park or Monument do you enjoy visiting?
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Oh Snakes! – Pinnacles National Park

Fourteen years ago, when the Mister and I were dating, we spent a summer weekend camping in the then Pinnacles National Monument.  Fast forward through a wedding, two kids, and new National Park status and we felt it was time to return.  The Missus’s parents met us there and we were excited to hike and explore the caves in the cool spring weather.  It was great way to spend Valentine’s Day Weekend.
Valentine
Westy
We hiked five miles the first day to Bear Gulch and Bear Gulch Reservoir Lake.  We were so impressed with how well both kids hiked.  The Boy out grew the backpack over the winter, so he had to walk the entire way.  He did so great.  The caves were a lot of fun and we enjoyed exploring them.  There were lots of fun staircases and little nooks and crannies.  We had a snack at Bear Gulch Reservoir before heading back to camp.
 Stairs
TheBoy
LakeII
Papa
On Sunday, we decided before we went home we wanted to hike to the Balconies – another group of caves – because we had so much fun Saturday.  The hike was six miles round trip.  The caves were a bit more difficult than those at Bear Gulch, but the kids still did great.
PinnaclesII
TheGirl
The last mile of the hike, The Boy finally pooped out so The Mister went ahead of the rest of us and carried The Boy back to the car.  On our way out, The Missus met up with a rattlesnake.  She was coming around a narrow curve in the trail and when she stepped down she heard the hissing and rattle.  She looked down and saw the snake, coiled and ready to strike.  It was very close to her foot.  Of course, she freaked out.  Screaming she ran the other way and ended up falling down a few granite steps and knocked The Girl down in the process.  The Missus knee was tore up pretty good.  The snake was annoyed and would not move off the trail.  We tossed a couple rocks at it (I know – dumb) and the snake decided to move toward us rather than away.  It eventually moved off trail and boy was it mad.  We hightailed it out of there as fast as could. Not our finest moment.
ThatHurt
Funny thing is that with all the hiking we do, we never run into rattlesnakes UNLESS we are at Pinnacles.  Both visits have resulted in a rattlesnake sighting.  Not cool Pinnacles.  Not cool. This did make us realize however, that we really need to beef up our first aid kit and have a better understanding of what to do when we do encounter wildlife on the trail.  The rangers surprisingly had little in the way of first aid and the cut was really deep.  We ended up taking a trip to the ER once we got back home.  A deep cleaning and a round of antibiotics made a big difference.
So do you carry a first aid kit? What are you essential first aid items?  We would love to hear what you carry as we build the ultimate first aid kit.

Eating Our Way a Through Thanksgiving

Camping for Thanksgiving is something The Missus did a lot growing up. Camping at El Capitan for Thanksgiving, was a new experience for The Mister. To make it special we planned all our Thanksgiving favorites. We decided to cook as much as possible in cast iron and to clean up the meals a bit – just make them a little healthier. We can’t figure out why, but the food tasted amazing. We think it had to do with playing all morning at the beach and not spending time at an appetizer table. Because really – the food was epic. Here’s what we had:

Smoked Turkey
Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole
Clean Cranberry Sauce
Canned Cranberry Sauce (Oh Yeah!  The Mister hates it but I grew up on it and have to have at least a taste every Thanksgiving.)
Campfire Sweet Potatoes
Stovetop Stuffing (a staple The Mister and Grandma could not do without!)
Dairy Free, Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie

Smoked Turkey:  We took a small smoker with us and smoked turkey legs and breasts.  The Mister made the brine using a generic recipe he found online.  We prepped a concentrated mixture at home and stored it in the ice chest.  On Wednesday night, we added water and the turkey and let it sit overnight.  We brought a separate ice chest just for the turkey.  I didn’t want to risk the brine leaking all over our other food and contaminating it with poultry juices. Thursday morning, The Mister put the turkey on the smoker and we cooked them low and slow.  When the turkey reached 165 degrees on an electronic meat thermometer, he took it off to rest.  The turkey was amazing.  Super moist and yummy.

Turkey

Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread:  I can’t for the life of me figure out where I found this recipe, but boy was it amazing.  Slightly sweet and crumbly.  I used Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal.  We prepped all the ingredients right in camp.  We tried to cook it over the fire but it was too hot.  We ended up throwing it in my mom’s oven in her camper to finish cooking the bread.  I could have eaten a plate of this by itself.  It was that good.  It made great leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Cornbread

Cast Iron Cornbread

Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
2 cups coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (we used Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature (we used vanilla flavored coconut yogurt)
4 tablespoons honey

Spray your cast iron skillet with non stick spray.  Mix ingredients together in a bowl and poor into prepared skillet.  Cook low on fire for 30 minutes or until bread is cooked through.

Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole: This is a must have for The Mister.  He loves green bean casserole.  I am not a fan, but I actually really liked this.  I found the Healthy Green Bean Casserole recipe online and modified it a bit.  We cooked it in a dutch oven and had to use leftover Namaste Gluten Free Pancake Mix to fry the onions since I forgot coconut flour.  The onions weren’t super crunchy and they mixed well with the fresh green beans.  I cut all the vegetables at home, so we wouldn’t have to do a ton of prep at camp.  I fried the onions at camp so they would be crunch, although I don’t think they crunched up a whole lot.  As for coals and the dutch oven, we just guessed.  We added what we thought we needed on top and bottom and were pleasantly surprised that it cooked through.  It took about an hour to cook.

GreenBeanCasserole2  GreenBeanCasserole3

Clean Cranberry Sauce:  I am a huge fan of Danielle Walker and her grain free cook books.  Her food is Ah.Maz.Ing.  I used her recipe for the cranberry sauce.  I made it at home before we left and it kept really well in the ice chest.  The cranberry sauce had just the right tartness.  Oh my gosh it was good.

Thanksgiving Cooking

Campfire Sweet Potatoes:  I love sweet potatoes.  The rest of my family – not so much.  We made too many of these and ended up tossing out the leftovers.  I just wrapped the potatoes in foil, poked a few holes in the potatoes, and tossed them on the grill over the fire.  I cooked them until they were fork soft.  And that’s it.  Easy peasy.  I don’t put butter on mine, but you could if you wanted.

Sweet Potatoes

Dairy Free Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie:  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t get a picture of the pie.  I made it at home before our trip, and then my mom kept it in her fridge to keep it from spoiling.  I used Danielle Walker’s pie filling recipe and a generic gluten free crust.  We are a nut free household, I opted not to use her pie crust recipe.  The filling was great.  The crust not so much, but who likes the crust anyway?

 

Thanksgiving at El Capitan

Everyone in our extended family is having babies. Lots of new cousins. And a lot of changes in how we will spend the holidays this year. We are usually at The Mister’s parents for Thanksgiving, but this year they were flying to Hawaii to see his sister and their newest addition. We were super sad not to spend the holiday with them but excited for the prospect of a long camping trip. We love Santa Barbara and thought that by heading that far south, we might have good weather. The Missus booked reservations at El Capitan State Beach. Her parents were going to meet us there.

Sunset

The Westy was loaded when we took off early Wednesday morning! We put firewood on top, a 9’6″ surfboard inside (we really need racks), two ice chests, beach toys, and hoards of other stuff. It was a bit tight. On our way down we stopped in San Luis Obispo for lunch and Pismo to grab the kids a few wet suit rentals and a boogie board. Both were a good investment. The kids loved the boogie board and the wetsuits kept them warm.  Why stop in Pismo and not rent in Santa Barbara?  Why not?  Just another reason to slow the trip down and enjoy the coast.

Loaded

The West in Pismo

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was in the 70’s and we didn’t have any fog until Saturday night. We totally lucked out and missed the huge storm hitting Northern California. We had some rain on Sunday morning but it was more if a slow drizzle. Not a big deal.

Gorgeous

The kids loved playing at the beach. It was a short walk from our campsite, but not too far. Our site was okay. It was pretty close to the freeway and train tracks. Although we would have preferred an ocean view, we realized those sites had their own issues. Who wants to manage a three year old and unfenced coastal bluffs?

The Girl

We spent time at the beach everyday, had down time back at camp, and the kids loved playing with their grandparents. Grandma was actually a lifesaver.  With the sun going down around 4:45 pm, The Boy wanted to go to bed at 5:00 every night!  Grandma kept him up with arts and crafts in her trailer.  The kids had such a blast.  The made place cards for the dinner table and decorations to hang around camp.  They even made the table runner.

NameTags

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun.  We had a leisurely breakfast, spent the late morning at the beach, and came back to camp to make our Thanksgiving feast.  We stuck to simple, classic dishes.  We used a lot of cast iron!  The food was amazing.  We aren’t sure why it was so good this year, but suspect his has something to do with being outside in the fresh air.  You can read about what we ate here.

Dinner

The Mister took a few days off work so we were able to extend the holiday from Wednesday to Sunday. It all made for great family time and an epic Thanksgiving. How did you spend the holiday? Ever camp your way through Thanksgiving?

Two Yosemite Lessons Learned

Yosemite was a great trip but it made us realize two things.  We needed to find a better way to tote water around for the kids and we are seriously lacking in good music.

1. The kids needed bigger water bottles. They officially outgrew their little kid bottles. We were constantly refilling bottles at Yosemite and the water issue limited how far we thought we could hike. The Missus found these CamelBak Eddy’s at Target. They seem to be doing the trick. They doubled the amount of water we were carrying for each child.  Plus, they are easy to clean, don’t seem to leak, and were inexpensive.  The backpack style CamelBak’s might be a good investment when the kids are a bit older and can carry their own water.

CamelBak Eddy

2. We need a better music solution. The radio and tape deck are not cutting it. The speakers in The Westy are not that great and you literally have to turn the volume to the max if you want to hear any music in the front of the van.  The Mister looked into different devices we could use in The Westy and settled on the Jambox. He found it on sale on Amazon. It can stream music from our phones – both Pandora and our own playlists. It has been a nice addition to our camping gear.

Jambox

 

Disneyland – Yes, We Camped

We had been promising the kids a trip to Disneyland for some time. They had been saving money in their little Disneyland jar and when we had enough money socked away for tickets we started looking into accommodations. Wow. It was so expensive. The Missus had heard about a campground near the park. Anaheim Resort and RV Park. She looked into it and the prices were right. The reviews were good, too. People might think we are crazy but we decided to camp Disneyland.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Disney

The RV park was one mile from Disneyland. The shuttle stops right at the RV park and is about a ten minute ride. They run frequently so we never had a very long wait. The bathrooms at the RV Park were amazing. Recently remodeled, each bathroom was its own self contained unit. They had a sink, shower, and toilet. They were clean and we didn’t find they were all that busy.

The park itself was very parking lot like. Lots of sites and cement. But it is an urban campground that primarily serves huge RV’s. What do you expect? It was really clean and we felt extremely safe. We had hook ups (which turned out to be awesome for charging our devices) and a picnic table which was great for quick breakfasts.

Westy at Disney

The staff was incredibly friendly and they were super accommodating. We had originally planned this trip for September, but then the kids got sick. When I called to change our reservations they were so helpful and didn’t charge us a fee. Really great service.

We would totally camp Disney again. It was a great experience. We maximize our time at the park (we have never spent much time at the hotel) so this really worked for us. Have you camped Disney?

Yosemite – Chasing Fall

The kids were finally better. We were so happy to get back on the road. We had reservations at Yosemite National Park. We hadn’t been since The Girl was two.

Half Dome

We stayed at Crane Flat Campground. It wasn’t in the Yosemite Valley but beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when you plan horribly and get reservations late in the season. The campground was actually really nice. Lots of trees and fun rocks. A little bit on the hilly side. Well, a lot on the hilly side. We really need to invest in some leveling blocks. There is nothing like figuring out how to sleep on a hill.

The fall colors were pretty elusive. We were a few weeks early. We did find one or two trees beginning to change but nothing notable. But really – you are in Yosemite. It is always gorgeous. Even the Rim Fire damage – although devastating – was beautiful in its own way.  The falls were a trickle but still magnificent. Just another reason to plan a spring trip. The Missus should get on that soon. Yosemite reservations are notoriously hard to get; especially in the spring.

Vernal Falls

We hiked to Vernal Falls with the kids. We didn’t make it to Nevada Falls. It got really steep and although we were pretty sure the kids could do it, we didn’t feel like we had enough food and water to combat any whining we might have encountered at the end if the hike. The kids had fun though and the falls were gorgeous.

Hiking

The weather was brisk during the day and just plain cold at night. We realized that if we were doing any winter camping, we were going to have to get the kids better gear and figure out a way to keep The Westy warm at night. The Mister was looking at heater options but safety is a big issue. We are also reluctant to spend a lot of money on gear for the kids. They grow so fast. Thermals are something we should really look into though.  Warm kids equal happy parents for sure! {Update:  We ended up getting the kids thermals for Christmas from REI.}

Bundled Up

Yosemite is one of those places where the beauty is extraordinary and every trip brings new things to see. Every time we go we wonder why we don’t frequent the park more often. We are already planning a trip back. Who knows, The Missus might even make reservations ahead of time!

The Westy in Yosemite

The Perfect Ending…

…to a perfect summer. Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end to our summer. School starts for The Girl and the smell of fall should happen any day now. (I keep telling myself that even in 100 degree heat).

We took off for The Mountains. A good place to go on the busier weekends. We don’t need reservations and we have our guaranteed spot.

Giant Sequoia

We spent Saturday with friends. We met at Big Trees State Park to hike with the kids. Our friends aren’t big on camping. Meeting for a hike was such a wonderful compromise. The kids loved the big trees. They even found a few to climb through.

In A Log

We visited the White Pines Lake Logging Jamboree later that day. This is one of our favorite Labor Day weekend activities. The kids love the chainsaws and the proceeds support a small local logging museum. The kids ate watermelon and we enjoyed some time with The Mister’s dad who met us there.  Smokey Bear even came by to visit with the kids.

Chainsaws

Papa

Smokey Pin

Fun things were happening at the campground on Sunday. A gunny sack race, carnival with a bounce house, and lots of play time. The kids had a blast.

Castle

We try really hard to limit television time at our house. We do allow for a movie night once a week, but lately we have been having too much fun in The Westy for any movies. The Girl was dying to watch Frozen, so we made an exception and let the kids have a movie night. They loved it and so did we. A few rare minutes to sit down and read.

Movie Night

Al in all – what a great way to end an epic summer.

Westy in the Redwoods – Richardson’s Grove State Park

The Missus was back to work this week after an amazing summer off. She was cursing herself Friday night. Why, oh why did she plan a camping trip a week into the new school year? After an awesome weekend with the kids in the redwoods, she would totally do it again. Living the dream. Right?

Coastal Redwoods

We loved Richardson’s Grove State Park. It was super kid friendly. The Girl was a big fan if the flush toilets. It has been awhile since we didn’t camp with pit toilets. We hiked 1.6 miles with the kids Saturday morning. Awesome EdVentures hike. Fun little clues for the kids to follow. They had to answer a trivia question to earn a patch from the park ranger. So much fun.

EdVentures Quest

EdVentures Badge

We all napped in The Westy that afternoon. After a long week, it was needed. Great swimming hole on the Eel River. The Missus forgot swimsuits. That didn’t stop the kids from getting wet.

Swimming

While the Missus cooked dinner, the kids made friends with a little boy camped next to us. Loved how well they played together. All of us loved that it kept the kids entertained. The Mister was not excited to hear we were having chili for dinner. Umm, can you say easy meal planning on a busy week. Turned out to be really good and The Mister said he would totally eat it again.

Cowboy Chili

chili

We walked the interpretive trail with the kids on Sunday morning. Tossed a few rocks into the river and ate whatever food we had left for lunch. And yes – we enjoyed our camping Coke, too.

Interpretative Trail

Eel River

Rock Throw

We stopped and Confusion Hill on the way home. The kids had fun and The Boy dug the train ride.

Confusion Hill

Did we mention we decided to potty train him this week. On top of The Missus being back to work. On top of using a new babysitter. On top of going camping. Not our best in the way of planning. It went well though. Potty training and camping. Who knew?

Potty Training

Have you ever potty trained while camping?

Westy Country – San Simeon State Beach

We know of two places where Westy’s are pretty prevalent.  The Pacific Northwest and the California Central Coast.  We like to call these areas “Westy Country.”  For our eleven year anniversary we decided to make a trip to Westy Country.  Our plan was to stay in Santa Cruz, visit our newest niece, and hike in the redwoods.  We quickly realized weekend reservation were not going to happen.  We (of course) had no foresight to plan ahead. The Missus instead found us a Wednesday night spot at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park and three nights down the coast at San Simeon State Park.

11 Year Anniversary

We left after work Wednesday and headed to Santa Cruz.  We made great time and pulled into the park at 10:00 pm only to realize we were at the wrong place.  The campground and the day use park are in completely different places.  We had horrible cell coverage and no GPS.  Forty minutes later and a stop at a hotel for directions, we finally found the campground.  Boy do they need better signs!  A few lights might help, too.  We made a quick stay and were back on the road by 8:15 am.  We were excited to meet our new niece and start our adventure.

Henry Cowell SP

One quick night at Henry Cowell SP.

We had to take the Westy on Highway One on our way to San Simeon.  Talk about epic views.  We really enjoyed the drive, the smell of the coast, and our Westy.

PCH

After we dumped some gear at San Simeon State Park, we jumped back in The Westy and headed to San Luis Obispo.  This is a special spot for us.  We met here in college and have fond memories of Thursday night market.  We met the Mister’s parents for dinner (they were also visiting but staying in SLO).  The kids loved the market, the music, and the great people watching.  It was a bit crowded so we ducked into The Natural Cafe (one of The Missus’s favorite restaurants) and had dinner.

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We lucked out with our campsite.  We ended up at the primitive Washburn camp.  It was a bit further away from the beach than we had wanted to be, but the site was large and had great climbing trees.  We woke up Friday to incoming fog, cool air, and that amazing ocean smell.  Absolutely gorgeous.  We spent the day at the beach.  The Mister’s brother popped in from Santa Cruz with his son.  The cousins were so happy to play in the ocean.

Cousins

Back at camp we had tacos for dinner.  We invited, Sebastian, our kind camp neighbor over.  He contributed some amazing cherries to the meal.  The kids were more than happy and had the fingers to prove it!  Turns out he is an author.  He gave us a copy of his book on our last day at camp.

Taco Night

Saturday was spent visiting the elephant seals just north of San Simeon.  The kids thought they were really cool and spent a lot of time looking at them, asking question, and walking along the 1/2 mile observation boardwalk that runs along the coast.  We had a picnic near Moonstone Beach.  The kids were stoked to pop up the table in the Westy for lunch.  As we were leaving, we noticed The Westy was having a hard time starting.  The engine would turn over, but it took a couple of turns on the starter to get it going.  The Mister and I both commented on it and thought it might be time for a check in with our mechanic.

Elephan tSeals

Saturday afternoon we walked from our campsite down to the beach.  It was a short walk on a nice trail.  We played at the beach until dinner time.  We made dairy free/gluten free spaghetti for dinner with Adele’s sausage.  I think we were hungry because it was gone in record time.

Pasta Night

We packed up early on Sunday with plans to stay at the beach for as long as possible before heading home.  When we went to start The Westy nothing happened.  Oye.  We just knew this was going to happen.  Rick, our Westy loving neighbor who was camped across from us, came to the rescue.  The nicest guy.  He quickly took down his awning and broke up his camp site to offer us a jump start.  Who does that…? He didn’t even think twice about helping.  Too bad it didn’t work. We were pretty sure it was an issue with the starter.  After looking at engine and the wiring under the steering wheel like we knew what we were doing, we decided to try push starting it.  Rick and The Mister pushed The Westy up the hill (because if course we were camped at the bottom), and the neighbors helped, too.  As soon as we got a little speed we were able to start it in second.  Yahoo!  We could get home.

Work Westy

We decided to skip the beach and just head straight home.  We left The Westy our local auto shop to get checked out.  So sad.  The kids cried when we said goodbye.

Auto Shop

So is there a “Westy Country” where you live?