Jelly Belly, John Muir’s Home, and getting to Yosemite…

While we were staying at the KOA in Petaluma, this was a VERY big hit with our kiddos (when they weren’t studying, of course):

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They spent HOURS here, making friends with the different kids that came and went during our stay, inventing games and obstacle courses, and getting really sweaty! The pool looked very inviting, but it really wasn’t quite warm enough for swimming, and the little petting zoo was fun, too- a couple of goats, a very woolly sheep, and some chickens. This was one of the larger KOAs we’ve stayed in, and we enjoyed walking up and down and around the hills here.

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I had to take a picture of this, because it is the first campfire I built completely by myself—I know, about time, huh?! Well, I was never in girl scouts, or camped as a kid, so it just took me a while to give it a try!

After a week, it was time to say good-bye to the rolling, verdant, cattle-covered hills, and head further inland, to Bethel Island. On the way, we stopped in Fairfield, at the Jelly Belly factory, where they manufacture over 100,000 pounds of candy every day!

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They offer free tours of this manufacturing facility, and we love factory tours, so we jumped right in!

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This jelly bean mosaic hangs right inside the entrance. Yes, each little oval is a life-size jelly bean, and someone takes the time to make many of these mosaics of famous figures. We probably saw over 30 hanging in the lobby and throughout the factory. Ronald Reagan is no surprise to have in the entrance, though, since he helped make Jelly Belly world-famous! The film shown during the factory tour (no pictures allowed, and simply involves walking on an enclosed, elevated walkway above the factory and stopping periodically to watch a video about that area, but still a fun tour. They have robots—always a hit with us!) pointed out that Reagan started eating jelly beans to kick his smoking habit, then got hooked on them. He always had a jar of them available at all meetings, and even had a special container made so they could withstand the turbulence on Air Force One. The blueberry Jelly Belly was actually created just for his inauguration!

After the tour we visited the free tasting bar, where you can sample your favorite flavor:

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Take note especially of the “Bean Boozled” flavors. Since I’m not a huge jelly bean fan, I thought I would just have fun with it, and tried Baby Wipes and Pencil Shavings. Jelly Belly prides themselves on having extremely realistic flavors, and these were no exception. Bleh. Still not a jelly bean fan. Ha!

We continued on our way, until we got to Bethel Island, and the Sugar Barge Resort. I never did quite figure this place out. It’s on an “island” surrounded by these waterways that look like rivers or canals, part of the California Delta. The island is actually below sea level and it’s rather in the middle of nowhere. The people there were very friendly, though, and we had a comfortable, no frills, grassy spot.

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These gals were running around all over (or maybe it was the same one going every-which way, I don’t know…)

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We had no phone service here and spotty internet, but we made it work. A highlight for us was a very friendly couple we met across the road, Marion and Terry. Marion, a retired teacher, offered to teach the kids how to juggle and they were excited to give it a try. Twenty minutes later, she had them juggling two balls fairly well, and beginning to try adding in a third. She was very encouraging and gave them some pointers for continuing to learn. We were gone the rest of that day (Costco, and then Awana…THE largest Awana we’ve ever seen. They have 300-400 kids every week (Cubbies, Sparks, and T&T). Wow!!) and were surprised when we got back that night to see Terry had left her juggling balls on our picnic table with a note that said “Happy Juggling”! That was a sweet gift to find

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As obscure as this place is, the reason we ended up here is that I wanted to take the kids to the John Muir National Historic Site on our way to Yosemite. It was about an hour west of here, and is the home where John Muir lived the last 24 years of his life. I wanted us all to learn more about the man called the “Father of America’s National Parks”.

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I’m not sure what this man who lived in Yosemite in the 1800s for four years, and walked one thousand miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, and from San Francisco to Yosemite would think of the Valero gas station right across the street from his house, or the interstate that runs behind it, because when he lived here, his house on the hill was about the only thing around.

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(The historic sidewalks are being replaced, thus the yellow tape.)

He inherited this house and surrounding orchards from his father-in-law, and it was a lovely setting for him to raise his two daughters and write his books. The upstairs right window was his “scribble den” where he could look out over the orchards and feel inspired to recall the memories of years of travel and adventure, and put them down in writing for others to enjoy.

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The trees we noticed in the orchard were peach, orange, fig, pear, pomegranate, quince, and olive. A highlight for me was these cheery poppies!

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We were mostly alone during our time in the house, except for a very friendly docent who was there to answer whatever questions we had, and later, a few other visitors, then a ranger who led us on a tour. We enjoyed wandering through. Most of the furnishings are only period pieces, not original to the home, but this cook stove is original.

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The scribble den was filled with books, sketches, nature artifacts, a microscope, a globe, petrified wood, and pottery from his travels, beautiful paintings and his original desk. I loved the crumpled papers and sketches lying about—as if John Muir had just been here writing and stepped out for a moment.

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The entire 3rd floor was this attic of every kid’s dreams (or at least those kids who have read Grandma’s Attic, or Narnia, or just imagined a big attic full of treasures to be discovered and games to be played). It even had a very intriguing and mysterious wooden chest!

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And at the very top, a bell tower! (Probably used to call in the workers from the orchards.)

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Investigating a tree for the Junior Ranger program—one more badge!

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We had a lovely walk through the orchards to the adobe building at the back of the property, which now houses a display about the Juan Bautista de Anza trail.

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These two would probably have had lots to talk about.

We really enjoyed learning more about this adventurous man who enjoyed and spent so much time in nature. Some may claim he was too ardent of an environmentalist but were it not for his early conservation advocacy, we would likely not have Yosemite National Park, and many other of the national park sites we’ve enjoyed would probably not be protected. He was a keen observer who saw evidence of design in the creation around him. He didn’t live to see the National Park Service established (he died in 1914, and it began in 1916), but is credited with setting the idea for it into place, and his travels and writings helped show what a treasure parts of our country are. His advocacy brought forth the idea that these areas should be preserved for future generations.

Speaking of Yosemite, I think John Muir must have had an easier time walking there from San Francisco than getting there in a 36-foot rolling house pulling a car, and having to find a place to stay that has internet, let alone phone! More on that next time!

Thanks for reading!

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How we choose campgrounds…

We’ve found that folks ask many similar questions when we tell them what we’re up to. One of the common questions is, “How do you know/decide where to stay?”

We have been incredibly blessed by the campgrounds we’ve found to stay in during our trip. I’m trying to think of one we really did not like, and I don’t think there is one! We definitely have our favorites, but overall we have had great places to stay. Here’s the process I go through to find a place to put our wheels up (in exchange for not having to drive the 22,000 pound beast pulling a car, I get to do all the trip planning Smile):

  • We pinpoint an area we want to visit. If it’s an attraction or landmark, I find the closest decent-sized city, say Santa Cruz. We wanted to be close enough to San Jose so that Chad could drive there for some meetings, but prefer to stay in more natural/rural settings. (We’d love to stay inside national parks or on BLM land, which is often free or something like $10/night, but we must have internet for Chad’s work, so it’s usually not an option.) santa cruz map
  • I use www.google.com/maps to figure out where it is, what main roads lead to it, get the basic lay of the land, or find out what towns are nearby in case we need to branch out our search. In this case, I couldn’t find anything we liked in Santa Cruz, so we ended up at a campground in nearby Felton.
  • The next stop is usually www.rvparkreviews.com, which has hundreds (thousands?) of RV parks listed, along with visitor ratings. rvparkreviewsantacruzFor us, all I usually look at are the most recent reviews, the rate, and whether they have big-rig access, then I do a quick glance at the hook-ups (most campgrounds that take big-rigs have some sort of hookups, and we can really do fine without any for a few nights if we need to, but we do prefer at least electric and water).

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  • In new tabs, I open links to websites for all the parks that sound decent (reviews higher than 7 or so, on average).
  • I then visit each website, checking on rates, amenities, and photos (which are a huge plus, but not all RV park website have them). I also try to get a general feel for the place from their website, but I’ve found the two don’t necessarily reflect one another.

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  • Once I find one I like, I go back to Google Maps and find the campground there. I make sure there isn’t anything weird around it, like a water treatment facility, big highways, stadiums, etc. scgoogle
  • If I’m debating between two or more campgrounds that are similar in price, amenities and general feel, I start searching for what is around each, using Google Maps. It’s nice to be really close to some sort of grocery store, preferably Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Sprouts. A Costco and Chipotle nearby get a place bonus points!
  • If I can’t find anything on rvparkreviews, I head to www.woodalls.com and search there. They often have many of the same sites listed, but not all, and some new ones. They tend to list campgrounds by area, rather than specific city, which can be helpful when there are suburbs with different names, for example, that I might not be familiar with.
  • I also check the state’s website for state parks and recreation areas. Arizona had AMAZING state parks. California, not so much, at least none that we’ve been able to stay in—most are either completely full months in advance, or we are too big, or we can’t get internet at them, or they don’t have the hookups we need. (Or they might be first-come, first-serve, but I generally prefer to make reservations, if we can.)
  • I sometimes look at www.recreation.gov for federal public land, and www.reserveamerica.com, a recreation reservation provider.
  • Occasionally we’ll get a recommendation from someone, but even then, I check the reviews and the website. Everyone has different needs and it’s important to find a good fit.
  • So that’s the basic process, but to actually make a reservation, there are a couple more steps:
    • CHECK INTERNET!! This is a big one, since Chad’s job depends on a good internet connection. Since we have Verizon, this means a check on their coverage map.

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    • Check Google Maps for the route to get there. Some roads, Rocky just can’t do. In the case of the Santa Cruz campground above, it was on a road going south through the forest that Rocky wasn’t allowed on (nor would it have wanted to, I’m sure), so we had to come in on another highway and come down from the north.
    • Check availability, either by calling, or reserve online (most campgrounds do reservations online).
    • If any of these 3 aren’t favorable for us, it’s back to the drawing board!!

It does take a bit of time, but it works for us! Next time, I’ll answer what is probably the most frequently asked question, “How/what do you cook in there?!”

Thanks for reading!

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Goat Dairy Tour

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This afternoon we had the treat of visiting an artisan goat cheese farm near Petaluma, CA. Knowing we wanted to visit a dairy farm, I searched online until I found McClelland Dairy, which gives what sounds like very educational tours of their organic cow dairy farm. Unfortunately, we were just a bit early in the [...]

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Muir Woods & Muir Beach

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This entrance to the boardwalk makes it look like no one else was here today. The opposite was true—it was packed! Reality is that I sat in front of the entrance long enough, helping the kids with their Junior Ranger programs, that I jumped up when I saw a chance to get a photo without [...]

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Where Have We Been??!

Where are the McAllisters??!! We are still out roaming around and doing fine, just taking an unplanned break from the blogosphere… Since leaving Colorado again in November (I should probably say “fleeing,” as we were urgently in search of warmer temperatures), we got to know New Mexico a bit, then headed to Arizona, where we’ve [...]

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New Mexico—Alamogordo

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After a little scare with a tire on the Mazda we’re towing, we made it to Alamogordo! (On our way out of Albuquerque, along I-25, our tire pressure monitor told us one of the tires on the tow car was low. We stopped along the side of the interstate, and Chad got out to check [...]

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