Californication

Californication

It’s been about seven weeks since we left The Golden State, but I honestly started feeling the pangs of leaving immediately after crossing the state line.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not the traffic congestion, high gas prices, outrageous camping fees, the gangster neighborhood we did our laundry in or the constant thought of earthquakes that left my heart back there.  It could be the fact that in only a matter of hours I could find myself hiking through the forest, strolling along the beach, gallivanting around the city or exploring in the desert. Or maybe I simply felt spoiled by having affordable, local and organic produce at my disposal, a farmer’s market in every community, and a Trader Joe’s on virtually every corner.

We spent more time in California than we have in any other state in our 17 months on the road and are all in agreement that a return visit is absolutely necessary.  Factoring in winter weather conditions and our job at the tree lot (see Bri’s post), made for the unfortunate but necessary decision to bypass the mountains this time around.  We came in from the north in Humboldt county and basically hugged the coastline down to San Diego.  Here’s what we experienced in just two short months…

Redwood National Park

I love trees, all trees!  I remember spending many days as a kid in a tree fort,  My dream home is a log cabin (on wheels of course),  My very first crush was The Lorax!

Giant Redwoods
Giant Redwoods

The Redwoods are amongst the oldest and tallest living things in the world and to stand alongside these ancient giants one can’t help but feel the majesty of their beauty.  We spent an entire day in the Prairie Creek State Park area exploring the forest.  We stood inside the trunk of one of the gigantic elders, located the remnants of yet another giant which at one time housed an entire family, and hiked a foggy, misty trail which resembled something from one of the  “Jurassic Park” movies.

Where's Mom?
Where’s Mom?

A couple of days later we took a drive along the infamous “Avenue of the Giants”,  a 31 mile stretch of road nestled between these towering beauties.  Half expecting this to be a tourist trap, we planned on driving straight through….until we discovered the groves.  Founder’s Tree Grove was our favorite. A half mile nature trail, complete with an informational guide, provided for a very educational walk along the plush forest floor, abundant of uprooted and fallen trees.

Founder's Grove
Founder’s Tree Grove

I personally felt very much alive in the coastal redwood forest and found it difficult to leave….that is, until I discovered that we were also in Big Foot country.

He aint so Big!
He aint so Big!

Sacramento

We ended up spending a day here because we were graciously offered an awesome opportunity by Birkenstock for the kids to participate in the making of their own pair of Arizona sandals.  This experience, thanks to Anne, our contact at Birkenstock, and the owners of Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento, provided for a hands on lesson in what it takes to run a successful retail business with the added bonus of walking away with a custom-made quality product.  Even Daisy was given VIP treatment as California is truly a dog-friendly state. 

Arizona Birkenstocks
Arizona Birkenstocks
Birkenstock VIP
Birkenstock VIP

The second half of the day was spent in Old Sacramento, a historic landmark along the Sacramento River set within the time of The California Gold Rush and The Transcontinental Railroad.  We explored this quaint little district rather quickly along the docks, over the railroad tracks and through the alleys.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento

San Francisco

Having only one day to explore the city we took advantage of the public transportation system (minus the cable cars as the line was excruciatingly long) and covered many miles on foot.  Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. Aside from being one of the most popular Facebook profile picture settings, the Bridge Pavilion houses various exhibits on its history and construction.  Mercy’s assignment for that day was to find out why this bright orange wonder is named The Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take her long to find her answer and I am betting that unless you are either a Californian or a geography buff, you wouldn’t know that it is named after the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.  We braved the gusty winds and the three busloads of tourists ahead of us and walked out onto the bridge to feel its grandeur.  It truly is a technical masterpiece!

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Haight Ashbury.  I’ve been wanting to get back there for 20+ years.  Unfortunately, the kids weren’t as hippy happy as I was to hang out in thrift store, iconic rock star heaven for any length of time.  We hit a local market, a few hip shops and a record store and called it good.

Hanging in the Haight
Hanging in the Haight

Fisherman’s Wharf.  We donned our tourist caps for this colorful waterfront community and spent a few hours popping in and out of various shops alongside spectating interesting street performances.  We made our way to the infamous pier 39 where we all decided on a restaurant as we had been looking forward to a fresh seafood meal for a while. Looking back, I find it quite humorous that we all ordered New England clam chowder and Maine lobster bisque.

Being in San Fran during the Christmas season provided for some interesting holiday entertainment amongst a few of the homeless characters.  Here is Bri’s spot on impression of a jolly street panhandler we encountered and grew very fond of…

Suffice it to say, this performance is sure to become a part of the Dunn family Christmas tradition!

Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most scenic drives in the country,  the PCH actually extends from the southern tip of Baja California to the top of the Olympic peninsula….roughly 2500 miles.  We knowingly ventured along portions of this highway while in Washington and again in Oregon, not realizing that it was just a preview of what would take our breath away when we hit the infamous route 1 along the central coast from Monterey to LA.

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

We were hesitant at first to take the 5th wheel along the hairy, twisty, turny, cliffy, misty, and at times foggy stretch of this highway. But, seeing as our max speed would only be around 25 mph, we figured we’d have enough time to jump ship if we got too close to the jagged edge.  So, we went for it.  And what a trip it was! Mountains to the left, ocean to the right, cyclists up ahead, idiotic, convertible sports car speeders passing you from behind.  All part of the experience I’m told!

The plan was to spend a couple of days exploring and hiking in the Big Sur region.  The only problem with that was that we didn’t plan.  We never really do plan. This time though, it was a holiday weekend (New Year’s) and that is when everyone else plans.  So, we were out of luck and couldn’t get into a campground.  I must confess that situations seem to work out for us as I feel we truly benefited from not being able to get into the campground. Instead, we pulled off on the side of the road just as the sun went down and set up camp for the night .  In the morning we awoke to this! 

PCH near Big Sur
PCH near Big Sur

You can’t get an unobstructed view like that  from a campground, even if you pay for it….which we didn’t!.

Heading further South that morning with our destination in mind and feeling totally sight satiated, we hadn’t planned on any more stops.  That is, until we noticed groups of people congregating along the pull-offs….and I’ll be damned if I’m missing anything!  So, I insisted Bri pull off at one and I believe everyone is thanking me that we did.  Otherwise, we never would have witnessed the unbelievably large colony of northern elephant seals covering the shoreline.  What an incredible sight and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  The female harems had just arrived and had given birth to the cutest shiny black pups!

Seal Pup
Seal Pup

Ventura

Said to be one of America’s most livable communities, Ventura has lots to offer.  Miles of surf-friendly beaches, neighboring mountains, and scenic bike paths combined with a mild year-round climate make for some healthy and happy residents.  The city also prides itself on supporting local businesses and promoting economic, social and environmental sustainability.  No wonder Bri and I both have placed Ventura at the top of our list for future,  part-time residency!

Trying to decide on the perfect place to hang out for a few days wasn’t easy.  One thing we discovered early on in this state was that we had to be prepared to pay higher camping fees.  Beach front with electric and water at an affordable rate was going to be a challenge…so we thought.  After making Bri drive up and down route 1 and pull in and out of tight areas we found Hobson Beach campground where we settled in amidst a mecca of care-free and friendly recreational surfers.  The price was attractive, the view spectacular, and the vibe sunny.  It was definitely one of the harder places to leave.  For me, exercising on the beach every morning and watching the sunset over the Pacific every evening is paradise.

Beachside living
Beachside living
Ventura Sunset
Ventura Sunset

Hollywood

Hollywood Baby!
Hollywood Baby!

Much fun was had by all four of us in the famous LA district which is nicely detailed in River’s post.   I will add that if it wasn’t for the hospitality of a dear friend who also played tour guide for the week, we would never have had the opportunity to experience as much as we did during the time we were there.  Aside from the studio tours, activities on Hollywood Blvd and our adult night out on The Sunset Strip (where Bri and I were hoping to bump into some rock stars…..instead we got Ron Jeremy),  I thoroughly enjoyed my morning hikes in Runyon canyon with Daisy where the view never got old. The drive through Laurel Canyon up to Mullholland Drive was also a highlight for me as I was envisioning a time when the bohemian neighborhood was alive with some of my favorite iconic rock legends, like Jim Morrison.

Runyon Canyon Lookout
Runyon Canyon Lookout
Sunset Blvd. fun
Sunset Blvd. fun

San Diego

We were all eager to get to San Diego for a few reasons.  First being, we had decided mid-way through working at the tree lot that this would be the place we would splurge, for the first time, and spend an entire week in a resort, complete with all the amenities.  In doing my research, I chose the one boasting of its central location, super sites, spa facilities and superior customer service.  Upon our arrival (after getting lost due to the lack of signage pointing us in the right direction), we soon discovered that the central location was nestled between the busy freeway and the active railroad tracks, the super site required our neighbor to move his vehicle in order for us to back our rig in, the spa facilities consisted of a two person hot tub in the pool area where we could barely carry on a conversation due to the noise level of the traffic, and the superior customer service was more than lacking.  I should have been clued in at the time I made the reservation when after I declared my budget wouldn’t allow for the weekly fee, the representative actually asked me what my budget would allow and gave me a pretty sweet discount.  Nonetheless, we decided to stay as we had a pretty busy agenda planned and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of picking up and moving.

A visit to The San Diego Zoo and a whale watch excursion were two more reasons for our stay in the area.  The zoo had been on our list since the planning stages of the trip and it surely did live up to all of our expectations.  Our day spent there is nicely detailed in Mercy’s post.    As for the whale watch, we got lucky on two levels. Groupon happened to have a half-off deal for the 3 hour cruise and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was migration season for the gray whales and they were passing through from Alaska on their way south to Baja which made for many sightings on our tour.  Such beautiful creatures they are.

Big Whale
Big Whale

Bri and I had our own motives for hanging in San Diego and that would be to re-live some memories from our first trip where we spent a large chunk of time living in and around the parks and beaches.  Surprisingly, we didn’t really notice any major changes.  It seems it is still a very popular hangout for those living out of their vehicles.  We actually found ourselves trying to locate a couple of characters we befriended there back in 1992 and then realized that one guy would be well into his 90s by now.  Hey you never know….once you’ve gotten a taste for the nomadic lifestyle, it’s hard to leave it! 

We hit the farmer’s market in Ocean Beach, took a drive through Mission Beach and enjoyed a local brew in Pacific Beach.  My favorite….Dog Beach!

Pacific Beach Alehouse
Pacific Beach Alehouse
Dog Beach
Dog Beach

Joshua Tree National Park

The trees, the trees, the Joshua Trees, I’ve never before seen trees like these!

The only thing any of us knew about this National Park was that it was home to these very unique looking trees that U2 had titled one of their albums….and that it was in the California desert.  The rest remained sort of a mystery to us and I refrained from researching anything but the campgrounds before our arrival so as to make it somewhat of a surprise.

The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a group of Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century as the trees’ form reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.  I guess this was before Dr. Seuss’ time.

Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

Two deserts come together in this park, each with its own ecosystem. The Colorado, being at the lower elevation and occupying the eastern end of the park, is generally ten to fifteen degrees warmer and also where we chose to camp at Cottonwood Springs.  Unbeknownst to us, this was not where we were going to find the trees.  Their special habitat is located in the  Mojave, which is higher up in the western part of the park and about fifty-five miles from Cottonwood Springs.  So, being that it was nearing sunset, we decided to wait until the next day to drive to the west end and explore.  We hung out in the campground listening to the desert sounds and witnessed a fearless and apparently very hungry coyote rummage through everyone’s camp-fire pit.

Not so coy coyote
Not so coy coyote

The drive was spectacular.  To see and feel the crossover of the ecosystems and the changes in scenery was very interesting.  In the same day, we went from an arid land abundant of beautiful Ocotilla and Cholla cactus to a cooler, moister climate plentifully bestrewed with the park’s namesake trees. 

I could never tire of looking at the trees.  Each one, individually unique in size and structure, tells a story of survival and resilience.  Of course  Bri tried to locate the famous one on the cover of U2s album “The Joshua Tree”,  but to no avail.  We did have a lot of fun re-creating that cover in total “Dunn” style…..which so proudly graces the front pages of this blog.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

Of other interest throughout the park is the amazing geologic landscape.  Huge eroded boulders lying on top of one another and naturally formed dikes within the granite made for some fun climbs.

Joshua Rock?
Joshua Rock?

We managed to fit in two fairly strenuous hikes during our stay, one in each of the deserts.  Ryan Mountain in the Mojave, took us up over 5,000 feet to the summit where the views of mountains and valleys in the background were complimented by the Joshua Trees in the foreground.  It was cold and windy up top.

Ryan Mountain summit
Ryan Mountain summit

In The Colorado, we hiked Mastodon Peak.  3,000 feet up this hike required some basic rock climbing skills.  The views from here included mountains, jagged rock formations and The Salton Sea.  It was warm and sunny on top.

 Mastodon Peak hike
Mastodon Peak hike

Slab City

Where to start?  Known by its inhabitants as “The last free place”, it’s no city at all.  Formerly a military training base during World War II, the only remains are the slabs of the deconstructed buildings.  There is no electricity, no water, no sewer, or no trash removal.  It is simply off-grid living in the middle of the desert where, during the winter months, you will find the likes of many nomads including RVers, squatters, hobos, and train hoppers hanging their hats (or bandanas).  However, there are a handful of permanent residents who weather the 120-130 degree summer temps. and therefore retain the authority to impose the ethics and courtesies that all visitors are expected to follow.

Welcome to Slab City
Welcome to Slab City

Slab City is also home to a fairly well-known attraction and most likely how we discovered it…  Salvation Mountain.  Created solely by one man,  this 50 foot tall and 150 foot wide painted adobe clay structure has a recurring theme of “God is Love” and is Leonard Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world.  It is listed as an official “Folk Art of America”, draws hundreds of visitors daily and has been featured in the movie “Into The Wild”. 

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Speaking for my family, I can say that none of us was deeply moved by the message.  That is not to say that Leonard’s passion and dedication is not worthy of admiration and appreciation and his Seuss-like art style thoroughly fun and enjoyable.

Adobe Art
Adobe Art

There were many interesting sights in Slab City and certainly no lack of interesting characters.  We kept busy during our stay and by the time we left we were somewhat familiar with the “neighborhoods” and “communities” and all the happenings.  There was a one-man radio station, and a Saturday night talent show.  There were Canadian clubs and singles clubs. There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy.   There was trash and there was trashy.  There was clean and there was dirty.  There was young and there was old.  

Slab City Art
Slab City Art
Slab City Junk Art
Slab City Junk Art

If we took anything away from this out of the ordinary boondocking experience, I would say that it’s the realization that everything is not as it appears on the surface.  Our trepidation upon our arrival was totally overcome by the time we pulled out four days later and we now know that desert life is crawling with creativity and irregularity….in the good sense.

Slab City living
Slab City living

I would say that California was the state that exposed us to a multitude of diverse experiences in such a short time.  My hopes are, that if the four of us don’t get back there together, the kids will make it a point to at least get out to Yosemite National Park someday.  As for Bri and I, we’re already California Dreaming about getting back there.  And this time you can bet that Wine Country won’t just be a drive through!

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A Tale Of Trees

A Tale Of Trees

I can remember Christmas Tree shopping as a kid when my father would drag us to at least six lots before finally settling on the perfect tree. I remember the feeling of excitement as we drove from the lot across from Quick Check to another lot in Westfield, then maybe over to Bowcraft (was there a tree lot there?) and up to a couple in New Providence and Berkeley Heights. Bounding around in the red M&M delivery van (once or twice with our Fanwood cousins) we would spend the entire evening combing the area for what would be the centerpiece of our Christmas holidays.

With those memories in mind, I enthusiastically agreed when Tan asked me if we wanted to manage a Christmas tree lot in California. I pictured us eagerly assisting joyous customers as they picked out their trees on our small lot. I envisioned myself happily pulling out the various trees for people as their small children stood staring in wonderment, the family picturing each one I displayed for them covered with their own ornaments.

These thoughts were a hazy, faint memory as I lugged the 114th 7’ Noble Fir off the delivery truck in the pouring rain. With only 164 more of various sizes left to unload, and the knowledge that we would be getting another delivery of roughly the same amount in a few days, I had to ask myself what in the name of Saint Nicholas was I thinking?  Sloshing through the mud and dumping the load from my rain soaked shoulders onto the growing pile of trees, I couldn’t help but think about last years’ Christmas in Florida and how the spirit of the season remained so elusive until Christmas Eve itself… but oh how good that sun and warmth would feel right now! Let me back up a little...    

We probably should have known this operation was going to be a bit bigger than anticipated when a steady stream of teenage boys starting showing up at the RV to fill out job applications. Tan and I figured we’d do the majority of the work ourselves so as to maximize our overall profit. How many guys would we really need? After all, how hard could it be? Show a few trees, carry one out to a car, tie it on if need be. No big deal. The kids could certainly help if needed, right? Right! But oh so wrong.

Parked near the lot next to us was a storage trailer. Once work began getting the lot ready it finally dawned on me that this was much more than we thought. Fortunately the area was already set up with fencing, posts and railing, etc. We just needed to set up the tents, decorate, put out the water bowls(?), set up the flocking machine (Flocking? What‘s that?), run power to the flocking machine, run power to the pre-drilling machine(?), make sure the chain saws were running, make sure the cash register worked, make sure we had flame retardant to spray on a tree if necessary(?), learn how to change the nets on the netter(?), set up the stereo… On and on it went as we looked at each other, our eyes glazing over with the knowledge that we had no idea what we were doing and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  However, salvation came in the form of Dale. A relative of the lot’s owner, he was assigned the initial task of getting us organized and help us get the lot ready for business. Without his help I don’t know how we would have gotten our act together in time to open for the crushing throngs of people that wanted to purchase their trees on Black Friday.

Twas The Night Before The Trees
Twas The Night Before The Trees

Then the trees arrived… and arrived. And arrived some more. Not only did we carry the usual assortment of 6 – 8 foot trees, we had 9, 10, 11, and a few 12 foot trees. By this point we wisely had a full staff of high school and college age kids to help unload. My knees grew weak at the prospect of having to load (or even deliver) one of these monsters onto someone’s car or truck. My only hope was that when we sold any of these gargantuans that I would have enough staff to give me a hand. Of course the small trees were not a problem and even Mercy was able to earn some keep by unloading the 3 – 5 footers.

Tree Unload
“And just how many more 10 footers are in that truck?”
Tree Unload
“Really Riv, I can take this one by myself”
Our Crew
Our rockin’ crew

From that day on, our lives were filled with nothing but the constant stream of Christmas music, the ever present aroma of the trees, and the intermittent sound of the chain saws. And flocking…

The calm before the storm
The calm before the storm

I had never heard of flocking before but was soon getting my first lesson on how to flock a tree. Flocking is the practice (it’s actually an art…) of spraying fake snow on a tree. I don’t mean the spray cans you buy at your local craft store, this is an operation that I soon discovered Californians take very seriously. The dry flock is drawn through a hose into the flocking gun where it meets another intake of water and the combination is then sprayed on the tree in such a manner as to give it the most realistic snowed-upon look as possible. The flock being a chemical, I had to don a mask, goggles, and coverall (actually a black plastic trash bag with head and arm holes cut out) so as not to breathe or get the wet flock on me. At one point I actually had an EPA guy tell me to make sure I had my mask on while spraying this stuff!

Flocking Tree Dance
Flocking Tree Dance

Soon enough we were ready. The next few weeks were spent running the lot from 9 – 9 every day. Tan would open while I hung back at the RV working my regular job. With the mornings not an especially busy time for tree shopping, I could work peacefully while getting the occasional interruption if she needed help with a larger tree or if things got a little too busy. The kids would do some school work then head down in the afternoon. River was able to make quite a bit of money being the only helper on the lot before any of the staff showed up. The Bay Area weather being mild, it was pleasant to get outside a bit and then spend my entire afternoons and evenings in this merry holiday atmosphere. As holiday music constantly played, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the good feelings that the holidays bring. Perhaps I was making up for last year!

Mercy Fir
“Don’t I look great in green”

The town of Walnut Creek was a most pleasant place to spend the season. With a little shopping area within walking distance, we could get groceries and other necessities quickly and conveniently. Although the lot was located a few miles from the actual town center, when time allowed (not often and after 9pm!) we enjoyed running down to do a little Christmas shopping and perhaps grab a beer.
Finally as the season wore down and after selling a multitude of trees, it was time to bring things to a close. Late Christmas Eve, after our final day of selling trees, I was taking Daisy for her usual nighttime walk. I had circled the block as I usually did and upon returning to the lot saw a car parked there. A man emerged dressed all in black. Black cap, black coat, black pants. The only way to describe him was that he had the look of a cartoon burglar from the 1950’s. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he were wearing a mask!
Ducking into the shadows so as not to be seen, I watched as he quietly made his way over to the small pile of remaining trees (that we had been selling that day for the bargain price of $25). With no more fencing to keep people out, the trees were left in the open for anyone’s taking. I silently followed a little behind and when he reached down to grab a tree, I asked if I could help him. He looked up with a pained expression on his face, realizing that he had been caught. He kindly asked if I minded him helping himself and I decided that since it was Christmas Eve and we wouldn’t be selling any more trees anyway, he was welcome to it. He was very thankful, explaining that his daughter was hoping to wake up to a Christmas Tree and that he wasn’t capable of buying one earlier.
As he started to drag the tree back to his car, feeling an overpowering wave of Christmas spirit, I reached down and picked up the other end. Being touched by his story and not being able to bear seeing the tree so mistreated, I couldn’t help myself. Suddenly and ironically it dawned on me that I was doing exactly what I had asked him… I was indeed helping him. Helping him to steal one of our trees!
Going to bed that night with the comforting feeling of knowing that for the first time in a month we had no responsibilities the next day, I thought of what an exhausting, yet exhilarating experience it was. The kids learned a lot about working a small business. With Mercy helping with the register she got a hands on lesson in customer service and continued her math lessons by making change without the aid of a machine. Riv also got his fair share of customer service by helping people with their trees and loading them into cars. Once he realized the tips he could make, it was sometimes hard to keep him off the lot!

Tree Tying
” I get the tip, right Dad?”

Tan and I got to work together all day, every day and I enjoyed the evenings when it was just the two of us for the last hour, listening to the Christmas music, and trying to keep warm in the little shed, occasionally stepping out to help the few customers that came tree shopping at night. The physical work and time spent outdoors contributed to my overall feelings of healthiness and self satisfaction and I can’t remember a more joyous holiday season in years. The only thing that could have improved it was the presence of friends and family who were hopefully enjoying their own feelings of goodwill back home.

Together at the Tree Lot
Pete’s Trees- Walnut Creek CA
Daisy, our festive greeter
Daisy, our festive greeter
Hanging In Hollywood

Hanging In Hollywood

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Hollywood. Where do I begin? Should I start with the fact that I didn’t see anyone famous that I would have liked to? Or something a bit less unfortunate like the fact that we got a tour of the Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers studios? Or that I got a gold top Epiphone Les Paul at a store on Sunset Boulevard? Or, maybe I should just start at the beginning.
    I don’t think many people expect to see a truck with a Maine license plate pulling a thirty foot fifth wheel through the middle of Hollywood. We were going to stay with some friends who manage an apartment building in the Hollywood Hills. They said that they had a space next to the building where we could park the R.V. It took a little while but we eventually managed to get it backed into the said space.

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    One of the first things we did when we stayed there was get a tour of the Paramount Pictures studios. Now our friend knew someone who worked there and we were able to get a free, private tour. I don’t know about you, but in my book that fits under the “awesome” column. Now we don’t watch that much television, so I didn’t recognize many of the sets we got to go on. I did recognize the set for the Dr. Phil show. I have never seen the show but I have heard of it before. We saw Jane Lynch, but I don’t really know who she is because I don’t watch Glee. Mercy recognized her from a movie she likes. At the end we saw the bench where some of Forrest Gump was filmed.

Paramount (2)Paramount (19)
  

 A few days later we got a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. It wasn’t a private tour like the one at Paramount but was great nonetheless. We saw the set of Two and a Half Men. I’ve only seen the show once but I recognized it immediately. During another part of the tour there was a room with vehicles from a bunch of movies. Every Batmobile, the flying car from Harry Potter, and some others that I didn’t recognize. There was also a whole warehouse full of props that are still used. One that I recognized was One-Eyed Willie’s skeleton from The Goonies. We saw a prop that was used on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a lamp that was on the Black Pearl. We actually found out that our tour guide was an extra in the movie. Towards the end of the tour we stopped at a museum with the original costumes from countless movies and television shows. There were the costumes worn by actors from the Batman movies, the Harry Potter movies and many others. We also saw two of the cast members from The Big Bang Theory. But again, I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize them at all. My parents were excited to be on the set of Friends, another show that I have never seen.

Warner Bros (8)

Warner Bros (27)Warner Bros (28)
    One night when we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard, we saw… drumroll please, Emma Stone and Russell Brand. Unfortunately it was only from a distance. I would have liked to see them up close… especially Emma Stone. They were at the premiere of Gangster Squad, but I’m not sure if Russell brand was in that movie so I don’t exactly know why he was there. Not that it really matters though. There was a guy standing behind us who kept trying to get Russell to wave to him, and when Russell didn’t, the guy yelled: “You sucked in Arthur!”

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    One of the last things we did while we were there was go to the Hollywood Wax Museum. They had wax figures of so many movie characters and celebrities. There was one of Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Michael Jackson, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men in Black, Davy Jones, Darth Vader, Yoda, even the aliens from Aliens Versus Predator. That’s just to name a few.

Hollywood Wax Museum (4)Hollywood Wax Museum (13)Hollywood Wax Museum (18)
    Later that night, we went to a music store and I bought a gold top Epiphone Les Paul. It was in great condition for a used guitar, and the price was $399. I was told that if it was brand new it would be have been $699. Apparently the store wanted to get rid of it so they lowered the price to $340 and offered a free case! Sold! I can even brag that I bought it on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

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    Well I can definitely say that it was one of my favorite places to stay. I would also like to thank our friends for letting us stay next to their apartment building and driving us around. I don’t say names in any of my blog posts but you guys know who you are. Don’t tell my parents, but I’m giving you bragging rights.  

Summertime

Summertime

Summertime Blues just hit me. Not because of the weather as I do so enjoy the crispness of the autumn air and the beautiful colors the season brings with it.  Here in Montana (where we are working a sugar beet harvest until mid-October), it’s almost as comparable to Maine…..almost.  But let’s be factual here. Living this nomadic lifestyle allows us to chase the warm weather and enjoy summertime climates year round.  So what’s the deal?  Why so blue?

I’m missing something that highlighted my summer in more ways than one. I’m missing  the celebration of happy people gathering together amidst the trees and fields, under the sun and stars to celebrate life and love in the form of music. I’m missing  BurntWoodsStock.

Family, live music, nature, people, local food,  and quality beer.  If you know us, you’d agree that those are the elements that make The Dunns  “Happy Campers” !  So, when we stumbled upon an opportunity to volunteer at a 3 day music festival in the Burnt  Woods of Oregon, we immediately jumped on it. (Well, I did the jumping.  They had me with the name as  I’m a sucker for anything relating to the flower power era.  Bri, on the other hand, needed a few more details of what I was signing us up for).

BWS

The festival was created four years ago by James and Julz Kasner, musicians themselves, who wanted to share their vision of  an all ages  family oriented gathering down on Kasner’s farm.  Well, their vision turned out to be a successful one and for 3 days in July, a variety of regional and local bands show up to do their thing!  Whether it’s rockin, groovin, swingin or jammin, hippies and hipsters alike all gather together for some soul singin!  And the four of us were fortunate to get the chance to be a part of all this magic.

I corresponded with Julz via email months prior to the event and I knew without even meeting her that she was an energetic soul oozing with kindness and personality. My feelings were confirmed upon our arrival at the farm when we were greeted with smiles, hugs, a headful of blonde dreadlocks and a baby blue canopy. (See Bri’s post, “Final Thoughts On The Ranch, A Comedic Interlude Part 1”).  Amazingly enough, she knew all of our names.  Mercy immediately became a big fan!Mercy and Julz

After we set up camp in the field with the other volunteers and vendors we went to the information tent to sign up for our duties.  Enter… MrWavyGravyMadHatterPsychadelicJesterMan and volunteer headmaster…Kevin.  A tried and true BurntWoodsStock head, (I believe he is still wearing his bracelet), he and his wife Chris were our super supervisors.  Never a dull moment at their camper… aka… registration booth, security center, ticket counter, supply closet, and volunteer meal shack, they kept things pretty well-organized on very little sleep.

BWS

Bri, Riv and I took gate duty.  Mercy, at her request, was assigned to the kids area and that is where she remained the entire time.  She kept busy crafting and gaming with the little ones. We saw her when she got hungry or when she decided  a hula hooping break was in order.

BWS

Our gate shifts were a mere 4 hours, leaving us ample time to play. Naturally, Bri and I hit the beer tent where the owners of  Rusty Truck, poured us a mighty tasty IPA.  River decided he would hang out with the wood fired pizza guys.  It didn’t take long for him to become a repeat customer.

BWSBWS

We also became quite friendly with the merchandise vendors.  It was great to see folks, mainly families, peddling their goods to people who appreciate supporting “the little guy”.  The tie-dye family was very popular. They kept everyone colorful and comfortable.

BWS

There’s nothing like being able to see and hear live music for 12 hours a day to keep your mojo going.   Not being from the west coast we were unfamiliar with pretty much all of the bands but that didn’t matter. Each one put on a spectacular performance and kept the crowd singing and dancing well into the night.  Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the  impressive fire dancers whose mesmerizing performance left you in a daze.  And the belly dancer who put you in a trance.  Talk about keeping you entertained between band changes!

Bri and I took in as much as our bodies would let us. ( It’s not like the old days where we would dance until the sun came up).  We both agree that our favorite was, ironically enough, The Sugar Beets,  from Eugene Oregon.

What sets this festival apart from others is what happens on the last day. This is when local teens are given the opportunity to take the stage (some for the first time) and showcase their musical talents. I truly admire James and Julz for seeing how important it is to provide a venue for our youth.  We witnessed some amazing talent and  it’s highly likely that some of these kids may find themselves as future BurntWoodsStock headliners.

I can’t imagine the amount of work and time that goes into planning and pulling together an event of this caliber.   My wish is for its continued  growth and success and that we will be able to return in the years to come.

BWS

Until then, I think we’ll just head to California, where there just may be a cure for the summertime blues.

The Devil Made Me Do It

The Devil Made Me Do It

Devils Tower    On our way to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming along Highway 24 I was hoping beyond reason that it would live up to all of my expectations. After all, I have been envisioning that huge monolithic tree trunk of sorts, in my mind and dreams for almost as long as I can remember. I used to draw pictures of it in school while I was supposed to be doing math, and even built a model of it out of Lego once.
As we approached along the winding road, rising and falling with the hills, I began to notice something odd. There was no traffic coming from the other direction. This went on for miles and miles as I began to see that there were no people about either. The few businesses we passed seemed to be closed, the only motion being the swirling dirt clouds kicked up around the dusty parking lots. Strange.
With the tower hazily coming into view in the distance, I saw some cattle lying down in the grassy field we were passing. Coming up to another ranch, we noticed that those cattle were also sleeping. Because the area presented a nice view of the surrounding area, we pulled over to take a few pictures. The cattle lying near the road continued their slumber regardless of our noisy presence. As we got out of the truck Mercy exclaimed, “Eww, what is that smell?!” I approached the cattle while at the same time slapping at a rather large green fly, and realized that the smell was coming from them. Immediately it dawned on me that these cows weren’t sleeping… they were dead. In fact all of them were dead!
We jumped back into the truck and continued on our way towards the tower. Suddenly a military jeep came flying up over the hill before us. As they passed in the opposite direction I looked in my rear view mirror only to see them spin around to give us chase. Not wanting to get myself in trouble, I pulled over hoping that they would continue past us. Unfortunately the jeep pulled off right behind us and two armed MP’s wearing gas masks approached both sides of the truck. “Please step out of the truck sir,” the one on my side said through his mask.
“What’s the problem Sergent?” I replied.
“This area has been evacuated due to an airborne contagion. You’ll all need to come with us,” he ordered as I noticed his grip tighten on his assault weapon. With that I threw the truck into gear and sped away as fast as I could leaving behind a huge cloud of dust as the tires bit into the dirt. Tan screamed at me as we hurled down the road when suddenly a barbed wire barrier stretching across the asphalt ahead came into view. Not wanting to get caught up in this madness and unable to stop in time, I crashed the gate sending wood and wire in all directions, as I continued our race towards Devil’s Tower!
As dusk began to settle over the hills we continued our mad trek towards the tower, the military jeep left in our dust. Finally we neared the base of the huge dome; a mountain of pure rock jutting into the open sky surrounded only by the emerging stars. I put the truck in park and dove out never even bothering to close the door.
“Hurry!!” I yelled to Tan and the kids, “We’re going to miss it!”
“Miss what?” they asked, unable to comprehend my apparent madness. But suddenly we heard an ear-rattling rumbling noise and the sound of what could only be described as the blowing of a giant tuba. And there before us, but somewhat eclipsed by Devil’s Tower came rising a huge craft of metal, and lights, and glass…
“The aliens!” I shouted as I felt Tan’s hand on my shoulder. Quickly she began shaking me and I turned as she yelled in my ear.
“Bri, you’re dreaming about Close Encounters of the Third Kind Again!”

    That’s what I was hoping for anyway… an immense cornucopia of lights and sound floating behind Devil’s Tower and rising into the sky. I could most definitely see why Steven Spielberg chose this place as a major “character” and the setting for the film’s climax.
Formed millions of years ago (ask Mercy, she’ll know) it is truly mysterious and magnificent at the same time.  An immense body of lava rock that cooled within its path to the surface, forming what can only be described as a molten plug. Then, over the course of eons, the land around it was slowly eroded away leaving the solid rock jutting over 1200 feet into the air. To the Native Americans this is sacred land, and it’s easy to understand why. As it sits upon a rising bluff gloriously overlooking all of the surrounding area, you can’t help being transfixed as the sun sets and the stars come into view around its darkened silhouette. With the quiet of night, broken  perhaps only by the howling of wolves, I was filled with the spirituality that this place invokes.Devils Tower

During the day we took a hike up to, and around the tower. It was quite a walk up the hill and I kept looking over my shoulder for some sort of devil or odd creature to pop out of the woods and give reason for the tower’s name. Unfortunately (fortunately?) none materialized and we enjoyed a nice walk around the base gazing up at the shifting faces and shadows as we made our way through the surrounding woods.

The trip back down was highlighted by a jaunt through “Prairie Dog Town”, a field bordering the campground that is the home to countless prairie dogs. It was quite comical to walk along the path as one would bark out a little warning of our presence only to disappear down its hole as we approached. The warning call would then be taken up by another ‘little dog’ further down the path, again vanishing as we neared. This little scenario played out again and again for half a mile keeping us in stitches the entire time.

Once again the time came to move on. Driving off I couldn’t help stealing as many views of the tower as possible as we headed back over the hills and by the fields we passed on the way in. With Devil’s Tower receding in the distance I told myself that I will most definitely have to return there someday. As we finally neared the pair of MP’s standing off to the side of the road I gave one a nod of recognition, and noticed the gas mask attached to his belt. He returned the acknowledgement saying, “Nice to see you again.”
Wait… what?Devils Tower

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

   

We spent the past week in Yellowstone National Park. It is one of the places that I have been looking forward to for the whole trip. Combining its breathtaking landscape and all the wildlife including bears, wolves, elk and bison, it is one of my favorite places we have been to.

Yellowstone

The first few nights we stayed in a campground by a river. The only campsite that we liked was on a slight hill and we had to extend the front landing gears on the RV almost as far as they would go to make it level. But aside from this (and the flies) it was a nice campground.

Pebble Creek Campground

After we got settled in we decided to drive up to one of the many visitor centers. Along the way, we saw countless bison in the fields and even on the road. We even saw one of the last animals I was expecting to see on our first day: a grizzly bear. On the way back we also saw a black bear. Here are some of the differences between the two types of bears. Unlike the black bear, the grizzly has a hump on it’s shoulder. The grizzly has smaller ears and its face appears more “dished-in.”
    A few hours later, we learned of an area near our campground where people often saw wolves. When we got there we saw a very large crowd. looking through binoculars and telescopes. We met a woman who monitors wildlife activity in the park who let us look through the telescope she set up (which is much stronger than our binoculars). She even took a short video through the lens with Mercy’s Ipod. There were two wolves there from the Lamar Canyon Pack. One was the 06 Alpha Female (called 06 because she was born in 2006). and the other was the brother of the alpha male. The female was chomping on the carcass of a dead elk which we learned was killed the night before. While she was eating, the male appeared to be keeping watch. When I looked at him through the telescope he seemed to be staring right at me. The female, we learned was one of the strongest of the pack and she could have killed the elk by herself! Most of the elk had already been eaten and you could see most of its bones, and some skin.
    The next day as we were driving out of the campground to explore more of the park, we saw another black bear. It was noticeably close to our campsite! We had to wait until the bear left before we were able to leave. That same night my mom found a pair of elk antlers near our campsite. During our stay in the park we saw a total of four bears! Three black and one grizzly. and three wolves.

Look what I foundOld FaithfulThe next day we left the campground and stayed at another one just outside of the park. While we stayed there, we went to watch a geyser called “Old Faithful” erupt.  There ware a lot of geysers and hot springs in that area of the park. This is because the park is on a volcano.  Almost everywhere in that area I saw signs that said the ground is unsafe to walk on because it could crack and release extreme heat, which is why they had put up wooden walkways instead. Hot SpringWhenever we walked by a hot spring, the steam smelled like spaghetti in a pot of boiling water. One of my favorite hydrothermal features we saw were mud pots. It was basically a pit of boiling mud.Mud Pots

Okay, here is the most frustrating parts of our visit to Yellowstone.  On Wednesday we went to see Grand Teton National Park, which is very close to Yellowstone. We were only planning on doing a day trip there so we left the RV at the campground. We arrive at one of the visitor centers, watch the presentation in the amphitheater do everything else we do at visitor centers. We are about to drive somewhere else in the park when the truck won’t start! This was very surprising due to the fact that we had just gotten a new battery. We figured we would just need a jump start but not even that would work. We had to call a towing company and wait five hours for a truck to arrive. We left Daisy in the truck while we all crammed into the cab. It was a good thing we brought the dog because we realized we would need to spend the night. We were able to get a room at Motel 6. The next morning we found out what the problem with the truck was and had to get the starter replaced. Aside from that “slight” inconvenience, Yellowstone was one of my favorite places so far.


Elk and Moose and More Elk, Oh My!

Elk and Moose and More Elk, Oh My!

RMNPWhen we first drove into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado I was so amazed by how awesome they were. I felt like I had just walked into Narnia. There were so many mountains, and rivers in the distance. This was my first time going to the Rockies and it is definitely not going to be my last!

After driving a few hours we made it to the campground. It was not at all what we expected it to be. I thought there would be lots of trees and plenty of privacy, but I was wrong. Well it turned out there used to be lots of trees there, but all that’s left is a bunch of stumps. I guess they had to cut them all down because of a tiny little bug called the pine beetle. The beetles infest the trees which kills them so they have to cut them down. As we were driving along the road, I noticed a bunch of log piles in the woods. They were piles of pine trees that had to get burned because they got infested, and believe me, there were LOTS of piles! It’s hard to imagine what the campground would look like with a bunch of trees, but I think it would have been a lot better. Oh, and almost every evening we would have a herd of elk visit our campground.Mercy's Elkfriend At first the elk were cool, but then we would see them EVERYWHERE and they sort of started to get boring. I mean, they would be on the side of the road like ants would be on a chocolate cake that got left outside! While I’m taking about elk I might as well mention the moose too. We saw about 6 or 7 moose on our visit to the Rockies that’s including a mom and a baby munching away on some bushes by the river. Since the baby follows the mom everywhere, at one point the mom pooped on the baby! It was really funny! So we saw a mom and a baby, about 3 bull moose with antlers, and a few more females. They were all so cool!

Mama/baby mooseWe also attended a ranger program about moose, which was really interesting! Did you know that during the rut (the mating season), to attract the females the male moose do this thing called scraping. Scraping is when the moose picks a spot in the dirt and scrapes it with his hooves, then he urinates in it. Next he will then roll in it. I guess this makes him smell good to the females, although I don’t know how having pee all over you would be attractive!

The next day we drove on trail ridge road, the highest continuous paved road in America! The road’s highest point is 12,183 feet in elevation! That’s 4,183 feet higher than the road they take in “The Long, Long Trailer” which is like my favorite movie starring Lucille Ball, well…… actually it’s the only movie I’ve seen staring Lucille Ball. But anyway when we got to the top we were at the alpine tundra. It was about 47 degrees up there, and 77 degrees down at the bottom of the mountain! The wind was soooooo fierce and strong that if you jumped with your sweatshirt out like wings, you would fly about a foot in front of you! It was really fun, but what was even better was getting back into the nice and warm car! Tundra Girl

While we were driving along the trail ridge road we stopped at the continental divide. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s an imaginary line that runs from Alaska to Mexico where on the east side of the line all the water and melted snow flows to the Atlantic Ocean and on the west side it all flows to the Pacific Ocean. The Rocky Mountains were truly amazing, and our stay there was beautiful! This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the trip so far, I will really miss it!

Colorado Rockies