CA Roaming – Beach and Inland


01 December

A Restful Sunday


Nothing planned for today other than an outing with Ralph on the beach. That said, after a gentle morning’s breakfast and beach-watching, we drive the 4 miles down the road to the off-road exit.

Weather has continued to be kind, and the big storm does not appear imminent, with only “chance” rains in the forecast. Temps are still in the balmy 60’s, with winds just light enough to carry the BBQ smoke away from camp.

Our mission at the vehicle-beach is simple and un-demanding:

  • Run Ralph through his paces a bit
  • Don’t get sopping wet with salt water
  • Don’t get stuck just as the surf/tide comes rolling back up the beach
  • Don’t dig in so deep that deflation of tires is needed (takes way too long to get them pumped back up again)
  • Check out the operation of the big steel winch-anchor that I’ve carried but never used.

Most of this generally goes without a hitch. The sand is soft but firm enough for 4WD to dig across it. As the sand’s color lightens, it softens up and Ralph digs in deeper. All standard stuff that I have a lot of experience with. The beach wave action is capricious though, with wide variations in how far the breakers splash up the beach; so we have to be cautious, because I really don’t want to soak Ralph’s underbody with a bunch of sea water. This takes its toll for months afterwards with rust in every imaginable nook and cranny.

So overall, the first part of the list is met with full success.


Then we un-packed the winch-anchor.

It’s pretty big, almost 2 feet wide and high, and weighs about 40 pounds. Its purpose is to dig into the ground and form a stanchion to pull against, when there’s no rock or tree or other natural object to tie the winch line to. The general nature of the anchor is like a Danforth sea-anchor in some respects, for it is designed to dig into the earth. Of course we knew in advance that beach sand is much like soft mud and does not provide much resistance. But we wanted to try it out (well, really “I” wanted to, but Karin went gamely along with my idiocies as she always lovingly does).


First try was a total bust, and the anchor just kept flipping up out of the sand. Turns out I had it configured wrong. When I got the pulling arm at the right angle, the anchor would pretty much dig in correctly (with a little prompting). But as we suspected, the sand just plowed up out of the way. With only modest resistance from Ralph’s tires (sunk in maybe 2 inches of level sand), the winch still would not pull Ralph forward, but rather drew the anchor through the sand in a huge furrow.

It was hard work, tricky at times, and more than a bit of fun. Even Karin had a good time, and immediately saw the wisdom of trying it out before we REALLY needed it somewhere. As for the anchor, I’ll continue to carry it. But I’ll know its limitations.
Easy Does It



We’re leaving tomorrow for Colusa, to see the area near the Sutter Buttes. We’ve traveled past these odd formations any number of times, but never spent any time in-the-vicinity.

So today, we have no further agenda. After messing with Ralph, the beach, and the winch, we explore a few roads in the area. A band of deer across the highway looks uncuriously at us as we drive back to camp.

Early afternoon is so delightful outside, we barbeque some chicken drumsticks for lunch and eat outside. Tomorrow it may rain, but today is golden. Another walk along the beach cliff is a perfect complement to our tasty meal. The tide is way out, having used its 6 hours of retreat to full advantage. The beach is a rock-littered expanse of dark, wet gray. A natural arch stands guard over its lesser brethren while the waters play at their bases.

Across the highway, somebody’s resplendent house perches high on a coastal hill, with no doubt spectacular views (and a LONG drive to the grocery store). It’s the tiny white sliver near the hill top.


As per almost any Sunday out traveling, many of the campers are leaving, headed back to their Monday-to-Friday lives. The lone remaining camper, right next to us, is running his generator. Go figure. A very nice site opens up farther away and we relocate Howie for the last night.


A Sense of the Infinite

One of the things that traveling brings – – at least, traveling to beautiful, natural places anyway – – is that occasional glimpse “across the divide”, a peek into the vastness of the time and space that surrounds us. It happens to me this evening and I once again receive a gift of rare value.

Bear with me (or skip this odd part, as you please) while I try to communicate it….

clip_image017The day wanes, and the tide wearies of its distance from shore and begins its return. The sand gives up its territory reluctantly, and inch by inch the water comes back to simultaneously abrade and caress the bases of the shoreline cliffs. I become more conscious of the inexorability of this. Of course my engineer’s brain explains to me that the earth rotates and the moon pulls and all of that banal detail. This is fine with me, and I sit very peacefully at the camp table, watching the sun sink. Yes, I know that I’m simply traveling about 700 miles per hour backward as the earth on which I’m seated rotates away from the glowing orange disk. But it’s still very cool, even if I know how it happens :o)


Then the simple facts begin to sink in more deeply, and I become aware of greater significances. There is an absolute certainty that the tides and the waves and the wind are going to continue to happen. They will go on for as long as the moon orbits, as long as the earth rotates, and as long as the sun warms alternating sides of our globe. That’s a very long time indeed, quite a bit longer than any of us will be around to marvel at it (or write about it).

Watching the endless waves lap endlessly at the shore is sheer, stark evidence of our infinitesimal mortality. But the eternal wind and water are made of the same stuff that all things, including our frail bodies, are made of – – our universal and mysterious mix of stardust, energy, spirit, magic, and – – in the end – – even consciousness. The foamy edge of the surf and this body that I live in, are both made of the same material, separated only by eons of time. As I sit and watch the sun recede, I’m struck by the duality of it all. Profoundly, desperately mortal, living as we do for a mere blink of the eye, we are scarcely here before we’re gone…. And yet somehow we remain, forever, part and parts of an endless cosmic continuum. There is an overwhelming existence and presence to it all, that forever defies me to comprehend the piece(s) of it that I am.

clip_image021OK, that’s it, end of etherial part. You folks who skipped it can start reading again.

02 December

Revised Plans

clip_image023Last night, Karin wandered around in her dreams and found a migraine. She gets these very seldom, but when they come around, she’s out of commission for a day. Today is that day. I do what I can, but that generally consists of not being annoying or making loud noises.

Plenty of cliff walking, and a fair amount of musing about how to revise the Howie-Ralph towing configuration, are more than enough activity to soak up my day. Add in a little photography and writing, and it’s late afternoon already.

The camp area is empty save us, the last neighbor having gone his way a couple of hours ago. The ranger makes his rounds, tidying up after the weekend visitors. A raven croaks and calls from a cliff-warning sign. There are grand sights, like the vista of the entire camp and coastline; and there are tiny gifts, like the pea-sized flowers that hug the ground wherever plants can gain purchase.


Here’s an annotated overview-photo of where we’ve spent the last few days.

The weather has gotten a bit gray, but you get the idea:

And here it is as the weather sinks down in the evening….


03 December

Rolling East-bound

Karin is fully recovered, and after breakfast and packing up, we head on down CA-1 and then east on CA-20, bound for Colusa. Our goal is to have a look at the Sutter Buttes, and the only camping in the area, other than RV parks, is the California State Recreation Area/Park in the Colusa area. Off we go.

clip_image029CA-20 is tight and curvy, but compared to that upper stretch of CA-1, it’s a super-highway. It winds across the coastal range from Fort Bragg to Willits, and the verdant forest provides roadside beauty and boundaries. At Willits we get gas and groceries and then work down US101 and east again on CA-20. This entire stretch is marked on most maps as “scenic highway”, and it lives up to the description. Pleasant countryside, lakes, valleys, ridgelines, and a smooth winding road make for a pretty decent touring experience. The road passes along the northern shore of Clear Lake, with the typical lakeshore clustering of vacation homes, and then scoots across the rest of the range toward Williams and Colusa.

Coming out of the mid-coast range (Mendocino Forest, the Sutter Buttes beckon in the distance, as they have for over a million years.

After a few false starts, we finally locate the Sacramento River State Recreation Area Park (that’s a mouthful), hardly out of the center of the town of Colusa. What a pleasant surprise – – a clean, spacious, flat, spacious park literally on the edge of town. And at this time of year, nobody there except us and the camp host. A level paved site costs us $13, and if we need a dump it’s $5 more. Not too bad.

Buzzard Bedroom


There’s still some daylight left, and the camp host tells us of a “nature trail” at the west end. Our experience with such treats is varied, so we have no expectations – it’s simply an exploration. A delightful one, as it turns out.

The trail winds through winter-dreary cottonwoods. Their dark branches paint black veins against the pale evening sky. The ground is blanketed with discarded leaves, and the path is both quiet and rustling. We walk past hundreds of yards of climbing vines, also December-bare, through a rough-and-tumble area near the Sacramento River, until a half-mile from camp puts us out at the water’s edge.


The entire area is a massive roosting area for turkey vultures (“buzzards” in the common vernacular). Everywhere we go, these huge carrion-eaters are hunkering down for a cold night. They seem to be quite communal, and some trees harbor 30 or 40 birds at a time, perhaps more. Across the river, the setting sun shines some last golden rays on a grove of cottonwoods with maybe 100 buzzards at rest.

Quite a scene.

04 December

Sutter’s Buttes and other Treats


Countless times have I driven or flown past the Buttes. One hour from home, I’d tell myself (in the airplane). No more than that. Today, we plan to explore them, but in our morning research we discover that they’re mostly privately-held. California Parks department had the foresight (or lack of it) to buy almost 2000 acres, planned for a park (see this link). Sadly, they never were able to acquire the land necessary to provide public access. So at this time, all we can do is drive around the area on public roads. The northern roads are quite distant from the Buttes, but the southern roads, in particular Pass Road, go right through a portion.


The Buttes are extinct volcanoes, having last erupted 1.4M years ago. Needless to say, they’ve weathered considerably since then. The Meyers family owns the land that the State tried to buy (for public access), and refused to sell. Can’t say I blame them for not wanting public trammeling of such a unique landscape.

So we set out to “do the drive”, and work our way in a clockwise fashion around the Buttes. A puzzling structure shows up early in the tour, and I don’t have a lot of information about it. Some ancient causeway, or flood-plain bypass, appears as we drive up the west side. It’s cluttered with graffiti, overgrown with vines, and absolutely mobbed with mud-daubers bird nests.

One day, I’ll have to find out what it is.


clip_image043A little further down the road, one of the many, many farmland areas catches our eye. It’s a multi-row olive “tree” plantation. But in order to economically harvest oil-olives (not table-olives), they’re grown in hedge-like configurations and harvested with monstrous Orwellian mechanical beasts that crawl over the rows and strip the oily fruit away.


As usual along the way, we keep an eye on the map for “targets of opportunity”. One such opportunity presents itself in the presence of the Gray Lodge wildlife management area. Now, it must be said that “wildlife management area” can mean a world of functions, and many of these have we seen as no more than areas set aside for habitat preservation. No argument, this is critical for wildlife support, but it’s not always scenic, and sometimes just downright ugly.

Gray Lodge is what a wildlife management area should ascribe to be. A true habitat preserve, with multi-purpose attractions for the (funding) public. [NOTE from a hunter and wildlife lover: It’s important to remember that hunters are among the nation’s most ardent conservationists. There is too-common a myth that hunters reduce wildlife populations, when in fact hunting fees and ammunition taxes help to support wildlife management costs. Here’s a statistic that helps understand these dynamics: in the 1800’s, California boasted about 4,000,000 acres of wetland habitat for waterfowl. Today, that number is 205,000 (about 5%). Of the 205K, 70% is owned by duck clubs and hunting organizations, who began this husbandry 100 years ago.]

I could write paragraphs about it, but let me instead synopsize it with some salient bullets:

  • Habitat preservation – – hundreds of acres of secure wetlands
  • Easy and affordable access to the public
  • Separation of the viewing visitors and the hunting visitors
  • True ecological success – – enormous populations of waterfowl and other species


Add to this the ability to stay (in an RV) for a few days for $4 per person, and both automotive and walking wildlife-viewing tour routes. We just loved it. More info here. We spent a few hours here, and I’m going to spread some photos across the next few pages to try to share what we saw.


A lone snow goose wonders where his flock is, while hundreds of Mergansers raft up or fly by.clip_image051

Ah, there they are….



A Mallard pair looks for an evening meal on the far edge of a pond.


While three Grey Herons find a roosting place for the evening.

Turkey vultures begin to settle into the eucalyptus….



– – – and the swans in the wetland pools.

And all this for $4 a person. Not too shabby.

OK, enough is enough – – my longest tblog yet. Not sure what else is forthcoming from this trip, since we’re mostly just visiting friends/family from here on out. Stay tuned.


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