Part 1: San Diego to San Luis Reservoir, CA


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The Experience

We had an extensive trip planned but as a wise man once said "the longest journey starts with but a single step".  In our case our "step" was getting on the north side of Los Angeles in one piece.  Transiting the LA basin is a burden in the best of times and in the worst it can be a truly taxing experience.  We planned our departure specifically to avoid traffic: on Sunday morning.  That, as it turns out was not just wishful thinking, but a fool's errand.  It took us almost 4 hours to get across the basin with slow-and-go traffic many places.  Our objective for the day was Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The photo above is the de facto view out of Thor during our transit of the LA basin.  Above, we are on US 101 near the center of downtown.  Note the graphics on the retaining wall.  Given the demographics of the area, it was a true miracle that the painting was not tagged with gang graffiti.

We passed plenty of these: accidents clearly due to cell phone caused inattention to driving.  Every accident, no matter how small, creates a steady stream of rubber-neckers and subsequent slow traffic.  Note the BBQ near the left of the photo above.

On the far side of the San Fernando Valley near Westlake Village we spotted this really nice landscaping.  This is NOT standard CalTrans issue, so it is unclear who was responsible.  But if the creator is reading this page then to you I say "good job".

Jalama Beach is close to nothing and we had to traverse the coast range to get to the beach.  The beach is just a mile from Point Conception.  I did not know about this place, but rather stumbled upon it while looking at some maps.  The camp site was full, but Kathleen persisted and someone cancelled, so we got their spot.  Truth be told, other than Pismo Beach, this is the first time that we have camped on a California beach.

Thor's roof is visible as the last vehicle before the railroad bridge.  We were somewhat surprised by the presence of the tracks, but after some reflection we realized that this is THE coast route used by Amtrack.  Indeed, we saw multiple trains pass our location.  They all slowed for the bridge.

This was the view out of the camper door.

The fog bank was persistent.  It only got thicker and closer after dark.  At sunset we watched the fog roll over the top of the hills and crawl down to the beach.

Jalama Beach is well known to the locals in the area and is very popular.  It is a big beach and it has both day use and camping areas.  If you decide you want to check it out,  check campsite availability online before you go.  Kathleen's efforts resulted in us getting the last site available.

From Jalama Beach, we headed inland to Solvang to check it out.  Originally a Danish "settlement", it now is a big-time tourist trap.  Many of the buildings have a European flavor.  And speaking of flavor, we sampled the wares at the bakery and they were great.

The draft horses pull the local trolley.

A walk down the main street was enough to satisfy my jones for tourist things.  We walked to the old Spanish mission to check it out.  Above is a view of the valley below the mission.

The mission was  built by the Spanish in 1800.  This arch is part of the original building.

The mission was damaged in the frequent earthquakes in the area, but it has been rebuilt per the original specifications.

The second floor serves as residences and office space.  Note the nice fountain.

From Solvang we continued north on US101 to Pismo Beach.  The "normal" campgrounds were full, but there was room on the beach at the Oceano Dunes State Park.  Thor is made for this sort of thing so the sand presented no challenge to us.  That could not be said about other vehicles.  We saw many stuck vehicles.  One pickup got stuck outside our camp and the clueless driver decided that the best thing to do was nail the accelerator.  That does not work so well in sand, so needless to say he sank.  Undaunted, the pedal was to the metal until a fire started under his hood.  They soon extinguished the fire, but the truck was still there the next morning.

There were tons of trailers and toy haulers.  How many get stuck is a mystery, but if the pickup dude from the previous night is any indication, then most of them get stuck.  At dusk, the wind was blowing strong.  So strong in fact that it was eroding the sand underneath Thor's tires.  Many times during the evening we felt the truck shift and sink and the sand blew away the support from underneath the tires.

Next morning it was mostly clear and calm.  We could almost see across the bay.

Look careful and you can see the trenches dug by by the wind around the tires, particularly in the rear.

During a stop at the grocery store I discovered two broken bolts on the rear tool box rack.  We found an Ace Hardware close-by and got the parts we needed.  Above, Kathleen's girly fingers were small enough to set the nut inside the square tubing.  Oddly, the 2 bolts were shattered.  One of the bolt stubs is visible next to the blue masking tape.  These were grade 8 bolts, so a substantial amount of force would be necessary to shear them.  I am guessing that I tagged the tool box on one of our previous off-road trips.

After one night at Pismo Beach we headed inland to Pinnacles National Park.  En route through the rolling hills we encountered this fellow on his bicycle.  It was about 100 degrees outside so he must have been rather uncomfortable.

 The Pinnacles is an infrequently visited park for good reason - this is about all there is.  If you are a hiker (and don't mind 100 degree temperatures) you can walk up to the pinnacles.  Mark the Pinnacles box as "checked".

We continued north over the rolling hills toward a campsite with a shower.  Along the way we encountered this land slide that filled this road cut resulting in a bypass.

We made it to SR154 and turned east and encountered.....traffic.  The traffic jam was monumental and lasted for over an hour.  It was still very hot and there were cars overheating everywhere.  We discovered later that the cause of the traffic jam was a brush fire at the top of the pass.

Over the crest of the ridge we could see San Luis Reservoir, our destination for the night.  The hills that were green from winter rains are now golden from being baked in the relentless sun.

Kathleen selected the state park at San Luis because they had showers.  No water at the sites and no electricity, but a shower was needed so it was a fine choice.

Camping on the beach at Jalama and Pismo was a treat.  Jalama more so than Pismo due to wind and noise from the sand toys.  But, both were nice in their own ways.

LA is, well, LA and I doubt that there is any "good" time to cross the basin other than 4am.  Expect heavy traffic any time you go into the basin.

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