Tuesday, February 28, 2017

RV Life: Part One, The Search

   Raindrops pelt the thin roof above the bed creating a deafening roar that keeps sleep from taking hold. Outside the wet leaves of the surrounding trees shimmer in the darkness with each flash of lightning. The kids jump and laugh with each thunder clap but the dog is whining. As you lay there you wonder if you managed to put away all the chairs, lanterns and trash bags before you came in. The wind and rain came in fast forcing everyone to scramble for cover. You could either get up and check or you can cross your fingers and assess the damage in the morning. You know that things will be alright. This is nothing new. Storms come and go but when you're living in an RV nothing is typical and a slight part of you wonders what kind of troubles could come out of such a strong storm. These walls aren't as strong as a house and it doesn't take much for a little problem to become a big issue. Eventually exhaustion kicks in and you fall asleep.
  In the morning when the shades are opened the birds are chirping and drinking from puddles left behind from the storm. The crisp, clean air is refreshing and you can't wait to get out and explore. The next week will be spent exploring Yellowstone National Park. After that the plan is to head south into Utah to visit Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zions, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The "Mighty Five" as they call them. While you're in the area you may want to see the Grand Canyon before getting into California. Or maybe you'll head east to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Eh, you'll decide when the times comes. You don't have to decide now because you're free to choose to leave whenever you want. You live in an RV. You are free.
  I've spent a lot of time in RV's through my life. As a kid we would head out to the sand dunes for a weekend of fun. We explored Split Mountain and Dinosaur National Monument. As I got older my Dad and our friends would load up the trailer with ATV's and hooked it up to our little motor home and headed for the desert to ride until the weekend was over. I bought our motor home in 2005, just a month before my daughter was born. She spent four of her first six weeks camping instead of lounging at home. Talk about hitting the ground running, right?
  I was twenty six then and we still have that same little 23 foot motor home. Turns out that after twelve years and thousands of miles and countless days on the road we've come to the realization that we need to upgrade. There just isn't enough room for four grown people. We have very little storage and no slides. We have no couch which on the bright side forces us to spend more time outside...or in bed...if we can find it under the pile of supplies we have to move around constantly. Yeah it's time for a new one.
  We went to an RV show a few months ago to try to get an idea of what type of RV we want to go with. It's a tough decision. With all of the different options and the costs included I think the only decision tougher is choosing an actual house. You want to make sure it's the right choice and that it fits into your budget. Quality also has to be something that you look at because if there is one constant with RV of all kinds is that things break. If you're not a tinkerer, don't buy an RV.
   I think that we've decided that we will get a motor home again rather than a fifth wheel because of our lifestyle. As I mentioned earlier we like to take our ATV's and UTV's out and boon dock for the weekend and I'm not keen on dragging a trailer behind a trailer. That sounds like a bad idea despite the fact that I know people that do it and do it well. Not for me, though. That would also mean I would have to go buy a bigger pick up truck to pull it and I still have a brand new truck in Utah waiting for me to return. I'm not sure replacing it makes sense.
  The motor home gives us the mobility and room to get where we want to go and still drag a trailer. The trailer can either haul the ATV's or the Jeep depending on where we are going and what we plan to do there. The Jeep is also capable of being ground towed allowing us to stay in a campground for a longer period of time and we can use the Jeep for exploration. Trust me you are not going to enjoy a National Park trip if you have to drive and park a 30+ foot motor home through it. Too many cars and no parking.
  We're also thinking of doing something completely crazy that directly affects the style and quality of the RV we are going to purchase and I'll get deeper into that in part two of this story on Friday. Until then have a great week and remember it's never too early to start planning your next adventure. Spring is just around the corner.

Brandan



Friday, February 24, 2017

A Walk Through Universal Studios Hollywood.

When I think of amusement parks in Southern California I immediately think of Disneyland. Lets be completely honest.  I love all forms of Disney magic.  Lately we have been spending a lot of our time at another SoCal amusement park.  Universal Studios Hollywood is an awesome place we love to visit.

I know we have talked a little bit about Universal Studios before but I'm not sure I ever explained why it's such a love of ours.  We love history in all of its many forms and Universal Studios is dedicated to the history of the movies it has helped create.  It also never has the crowds that the "House of the Mouse" has.  Hit Harry Potter themed areas first and your day will be smooth sailing.  While the lines can get longer here, the Forbidden Journey is worth the wait.  One day I hope to be writing all about Universal Studios in Orlando.  Their Harry Potter themed adventures are larger and have more to offer. 

Part of the draw is to see props from the movies.  Faith especially loves the movie cars.  Here is one that you might recognize from a favorite magical film.  Ron steals his dads flying car in the rough start to their second year at Hogwarts and lands it here for us to see.  You can also see the flying motorbike that Hagrid travels on while in the line for the Flight of the Hippogriff.  On the Back Lot Tour you can see the Gyrosphere from Jurassic World, the futuristic Ford Probe and the Ford Edsel from Back to the Future II, the mobile lab that fell off the cliff (filmed in Universals Parking lot) from Jurassic Park II: the Lost World, the foot powered car from the Flintstones movie, a tank and a Jeep from Transformers, and a handful of other motorized movie stars.  


If the adult in you is looking to get scared then this is the attraction for you.  Walk through the world of The Walking Dead.  Hollywood has amazing makeup talent used to make the movies come alive.  This talent is used here to make the zombies so real you wont believe it's not happening.  Lucky for us it wasn't super long and we were tough so we survived.  They promise not to touch you so you can close your eyes and think happy thoughts if you need to.  Just enter under the destroyed helicopter and follow the guides in the bloodied vests.  What ever you do, don't get bitten. 

 For me the best part of our day is the Studio Tour in Universals Back Lot. You load on the tram and they take you to places you have seen in the movies.  The clock tower is still there from the Back to the Future movies though they have changed it up a bit.  They will take you through New York on a street designed to trick you into thinking you are there.  It turns out its not easy to shut down the actual New York City so a lot of the scenes you think are in the Big Apple are actually filmed here.  Six Points Texas is where a lot of the older westerns happened.  Think about it, you can ride over the very spot the John Wayne strolled.  Bruce the shark, named after Steven Spielberg's  attorney,  comes to visit you in Amity Island. You can survive an Earthquake (Experience it here on our YouTube channel), drive through Wisteria Lane, be saved by King Kong and run from Shaw with the crew of Fast and Furious.  Definitely don't miss the Studio Tour.

From Shrek 4D you can see the towering peaks of Hogsmeade but don't let that make you skip it.  The story continues and you can be a part of it in a theater fully immersed in the tale. The waiting area to get in is just as fun so take the time to look around.  Your kids and the kid in you will love it.  You can also meet up with some fun characters like the cast of Shrek, SpongeBob Square Pants, Minions, Scooby Doo, the Transformers and Raptors if you dare.  Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball walk the streets here with Dracula, Beetleguise and Frankenstein.  If its a hot day you can cool off in the splash pad areas of the park or in the attached City Walk.


You can become a minion working for Gru in Minion Mayhem or the young ones can play in the Super Silly Fun Land.  Bring them a change of clothes because the fun land is a wet kind of fun. You can ring the doorbells of the homes down the street where you will hear the sounds of minions (Experience it here) and eat banana themed snacks and Machos Nachos at Gru's Lab Cafe.  My kids love love love the Animal Actors show but my favorite show is the Special Effects show.  The Water World show is really cool but its behind a fence.  I'm not sure if they are fixing it up or if it is going away to make room for a new attraction.






From eating a giant doughnut at Lard Lad's to experiencing a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, you can taste your way through the shows as well.  Stop by Jurassic Cafe or Krusty Burger if you want a simple burger.  The Three Broomsticks has traditional English foods.  You can get a snack at Starbucks, Cinnabon, Ben and Jerry's, Panda Express or a variety of snack shacks through out the park.  The turkey legs are huge and the smell sneaks up on your from time time. You can eat as simple or as fancy as you want here.  And if you cant find anything in the park you can visit the City Walk to pick from all they have to offer. That is where you will find It's Sugar (Experience it Here) if you are looking to get a major sugar fix. You can also get Subway, a hot dog from Pinks or sit down in one of their restaurant choices.

 Just a tip, when you get there you can buy a souvenir cup that gives you refills for $.99 for the day.  After three refills it has saved you money if you choose the cheaper of the options. This Minion sipper is adorable but pass it up for the simple blue one.  The sipper was a struggle to drink from reminiscent of a sippy cup of a toddler but it wasn't as light and easy to get around. We purchased a strap to help tote it about for an extra $2.99 and it bounced off our belly with every step.  I'm not sure drinks are meant to be wore around your neck.  At $16.99 it is a super cute desk decoration.  The simple blue cup is $8.99.  It has a handle you can use to attach to the strap of your bags and a great straw that makes drinking from it simple.















Monday, February 20, 2017

President's Day

  On the third Monday of each February we celebrate President's day. Well some of us do anyway. If you don't get the day off then it isn't a holiday in my world and I have never gotten a President's Day off. I just don't work in an industry that recognizes it. There are many of you that do get the day off and I hope that you chose to spend it doing something fun.
  Misty and the kid's went to Disneyland again on a day that is extra crowded due to the holiday which to me is crazy. To be fair, she had family in town and wanted to spend the day with them which I understand but I would rather go to work than experience an overcrowded day at a Disney Park so I guess we all got what we wanted (except for the me being at work part.)
  I noticed that there were a lot of people that chose to spend their holiday participating in protests across the country. While I think it is great to stand up for what you believe in. I'm getting a bit tired of watching this country tear itself apart. I'm not going to get political here on this blog. That's not what I'm here for. I would just like to see folks out there celebrating the fact that we have a democracy and that we get to choose who our leader will be, whether we like them or not.
  It's amazing to know that places like Mt. Vernon and Monticello are still standing to this day. Mt. Rushmore was carved into the hard, white, granite of the Black Hills to forever memorialize Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt. Washington D.C. is also full of monuments dedicated to presidents. Ulysses S. Grant has a monument which doubles as a mausoleum, the largest in the U.S. according to the National Park Service. And don't forget about all of the Presidential Libraries scattered throughout the country.
  Of all of these I have only been to Mt. Rushmore and that was when I was two or three so I think I need to start planning a few trips. Actually a trip to Mt. Rushmore is currently being planned for those of us here at Route To Adventure and we'll detail that more as the plan comes together. 
  All in all I hope that you had the opportunity to do something fun for President's Day and if you are one of the many employees that had to work the huge sales this weekend, we thank you and salute your bravery. You didn't have to visit any of the places that I wrote about here but I do hope that it gets you thinking about what you can do for next year's President's Day. 



Brandan  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Aquarium of the Pacific

 Let's face it. If you live in California you're never too far from the ocean. All manor of strange life from whales, crustaceans and porpoise live in these waters and even stranger life forms can be found on the beach. If you don't believe that part about the beaches then you obviously have never visited one in SoCal.  Anyway, life in California seems to revolve around the beach and how important it is to the ecosystem. To show love to the ocean and to give folks an up close and educational view of them there are multiple aquariums (that aren't SeaWorld) scattered throughout the state for anyone interested in checking one out. Well being the curious explorers we are we loaded up and headed to Long Beach, home of the Aquarium of the Pacific.
   Boasting over 11,000 animals and 500 different species the Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the largest and most popular (1.6 million visitors annually) aquariums anywhere. But to be honest I tend to feel that aquariums, much like zoos, all feel the same. They all seem to have the same animals in very similar atmospheres.  But what I liked about the Aquarium of the Pacific was that they broke the exhibits out into different areas of the Pacific Ocean. They give a very clear picture to what animals live where and how they live their lives. I'm also pretty sure this was the first aquarium that I've been to where you can touch jelly fish. I didn't. Mainly because I didn't trust the girl telling me that I could. She seemed shifty and somehow immune to the jelly's stings. Probably because she built up some sort of callous from handling them every day. I'll never know for sure but there were plenty of other folks willing to trust her. I wonder how many of them lived? Just kidding. It seemed to be perfectly safe and I'm sure most of them lived. 
 The penguins and otters are always popular no matter what aquarium I've visited. Even a manly man such as myself have to admit that their kind of cute and entertaining. This combination usually makes them difficult to see through the mass of people oohing and googling around the enclosures. But we were there on a good day and we were able to view them with ease. I don't know if it's due to the off season or whether the nice large viewing areas made it easy to see them but either way I'll take it. And while they were interesting they weren't my highlights. I found myself drawn to the various seahorses they have. I had no clue there were so many varieties of these little guys and many of them look a lot different then Disney showed me as a kid. Some of them look more like plants then sea creatures. I guess they're the stick bugs of the ocean, cursed with horrible looks to appear less appetizing then the more fortunate species of the seas.
   We didn't spend enough time to take in any of the movies that they offer and I all but ran out of the section that explained how bad humans have destroyed the planet and continue to kill off nature's darlings. It wasn't because I disagree (or agree) with everything presented in this exhibit. I just couldn't handle the guilt and I would prefer to keep my blinders on. Just kidding, we ran out of time. Overall I enjoyed our visit and will be going back soon (wifey bought season passes so I kind of have too.) Click here to visit the aquariums website if you would like to check it out and decide if it's worth a visit during your trip to SoCal. Have a safe and adventurous weekend kiddos!

Brandan

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Desert Hideout

  The sweltering, summer sun beat down on the desert floor. The sharp and jagged rocks radiated the heat causing a strange shimmering distortion of the air above them to remind any passer by that had the misfortune of finding themselves lost in the area. These harsh conditions were no place for man nor beast. Despite nature's warnings a few desperate men would ignore the warnings and take refuge in these rocks in 1873-1874.
  There were no homes in the area like there are today, of course. There wasn't much but rattlesnakes and lizards really. This made for a perfect hideout for someone who didn't want to be found, like an outlaw. Tiburcio Vasquez and a few of his gang members took refuge in the rocks now known as Vasquez Rocks to hide from pursuing posses. The men had robbed a stage and stolen horses among other crimes and in the end they would pay for it. The rocks couldn't hide them forever. Vasquez would hang for his crimes in 1875.
  Today, though, there are plenty of houses that surround Vasquez Rocks and a busy freeway just a couple of miles away, hardly a place for criminals on the lamb. Today the rocks make a great place to spend an afternoon hiking and picnicking. We spent about an hour and a half hiking around and watching the people climb around on the sandstone. There are a few organized hiking trails that can be enjoyed but overall it's kind of like a large, natural playground for those of all ages. In fact the unique rock features and the convenient location near Los Angeles captured the attention of Hollywood. Vasquez Rocks have been the backdrop to countless feature films and televisions shows since the 1930's.
  The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Outer Limits, and Bonanza are a few of the well known early shows filmed here. The rocks became famous thanks to a little show called Star Trek, though. Captain Kirk battled an odd looking alien called a Gorn in front of these extraterrestrial looking rocks placing Vasquez Rocks on the map. In fact Vasquez Rocks would be featured in Star Trek V and the JJ Abrams reboot of the franchise in 2009. The list of shows filmed here are too lengthy to list here but now that I've seen them in person it will be fun to keep an eye open for them as I watch movies and television shows. 
  Vasquez Rocks is located off of Highway 14 in Agua Dulce, CA and are part of the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. There is no entry fee to visit but they do shut and lock the gates each night. The hours vary depending on the time of year but as a general rule it's around sundown. So if you're in the mood for a little movie history and some exercise this is the ideal place to visit especially if you don't have a lot of time. You can see it all in an hour if you want or you can take your time to explore. It's really up to you.

Brandan

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Bloody Last Stand

 A quarter after nine the morning of May 23rd, 1934 a stolen Ford Fordor Deluxe Sedan raced down a dusty Louisiana back road. Six men had been waiting for over twelve long, uncomfortable hours for this very moment. The men were armed with rifles, shotguns and pistols each loaded and ready for action. The car got closer. Not long before the Ford's arrival the posse had been on the cusp of giving up but now their patience was being rewarded.
 With the car within range of the automatic rifles the men opened fire on the unsuspecting occupants the driver was killed instantly sending the passenger into hysterics. The car continued toward the lawmen who dropped he rifles and switched to shotguns which pelted the driver side of the car. Glass shattered and lead shot tapped through the metal body of the car as it passed by the men who dropped the shotguns and pulled revolvers from the leather holsters that secured them to their hips. They were taking no chances. The car rolled off the road and into a small ditch nearly tipping over as it came to a stop. The men, four posse members from Texas and a Bienville Parish Sheriff and his deputy finished unloading their weapons into the car. When it was over they had fired 130 rounds into the car and two murderous thieves, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, lay dead in the front seat.
   Bonnie and Clyde still fascinate people after more than eighty years. I suppose that it may be because of the tragic way they left this world despite the fact that they ruined plenty of lives while they murdered and robbed their way around half the country. Luckily for those of us that have a morbid curiosity the stolen Ford sedan that was witness to their final moments is on display for our viewing pleasure. It travels around once in a while but more often than not you can see the car at Whiskey Pete's Casino in Primm, NV just 43 miles south of Las Vegas. 

Brandan

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Pleasant Surprise

  We've all felt it. The betrayal of the walls of our own comfortable home closing in upon you while you're trying to relax. When that happens you only have two choices. One is to tough it out until your blues pass or you can pack up the car, get out and do something. Well that's exactly how we felt the other day so we took our own advice and jumped into the car. We didn't really know what we wanted to do but we didn't want to be home.
 We headed west out of Valencia and before long we found ourselves at the Pacific Ocean. We wanted to do a little research on how to visit the Channel Islands and it just so happens that the visitor center for Channel Islands National Park sits just 100 yards from Harbor Cove. We visited Harbor Cove a few months back and you can read about it here.
  It didn't take us long to get the information we needed from the visitor center and we decided to stroll the beach. I'll be the first to admit that this wasn't the ideal day to head to the beach. The sky was overcast and the cool breeze cut right through you but we were out to make the best of it. Turns out we would be rewarded for our efforts. The NSSA was having a surfing contest over the weekend. The National Scholastic Surfing Association, a non profit organization had an event going on that was not only entertaining but free as well. I didn't know much about surfing before watching this and I still don't but I do know it takes some skill and great balance and after watching these kids give it their all I think I'll sit out this sport and leave it for them.
  I tell this story not to tell you about how I'm more likely to sit under an umbrella on the beach rather than take on the next killer wave but to encourage you to take a chance when you feel like those cozy walls are staring you down. Just hop in the car and drive. You never know what you'll find on those impromptu adventures.

Brandan

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pipe Springs

 When traveling to the North Rim of Grand Canyon from the western states there is a good chance that you'll travel along Highway 389 through Arizona. It's a lonely road with sparse communities sprinkled between panoramic views of nature's carefully crafted plateaus. And while it's easy to speed through the area to get to the Grand Canyon I would recommend slowing down and taking an hour out of your time to visit Pipe Springs National Monument. Especially since if you blink you'll miss the turn despite it being marked with a tell tale brown sign that we all know and love. 
  So what is Pipe Springs? Well originally it was just a natural spring that brought water to plants, animals and local native people of the area. Of course if that were all it was we wouldn't be talking about it would we? I think not. 
  Life was hard enough on the different tribes that lived throughout the area and they all used the spring's waters. One day Mormon settlers came across the spring and instantly realized how important the spring was in the harsh desert climate. Not long after their discovery a cattle ranch was established. The Kaibab Paiutes got along with the Mormons and the ranchers but the Utes and Navajo were not so welcoming and the Navajo decided to take action. In the winter of 1866 the cattle found it's way into the possession of the Navajo (by way of theft) which led to the rancher, Dr. James Whitmore and his associate Robert McIntyre to track the stolen cattle. The two men found the cattle and were quickly rendered dead by the Navajo. I guess they should have taken more men. 
  The ranch was a project of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day and after Whitmore and McIntyre were killed the project was abandoned for four years. During this time they worked on strengthening relationships with the tribes and a peace treaty was eventually signed. With a treaty in hand church leader Brigham Young ordered a fort to be built directly over the spring with high walls and plenty of guns for protection, you know, just in case people realized a treaty is just a piece of paper with scribbles on it. Don't worry though, this fort didn't lead to violence. In fact quite the opposite. The Paiute and Mormon relationship flourished and attacks from other tribes subsided. The LDS church would eventually lose this property but that's a story for a different day. 
 Today Pipe Springs is located on what is now the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. There is a campground and picnic area for visitors as well as plenty of history of the site and the people that did and continue to live here. You can take a self guided tour of the facility like we did or you can take advantage of a ranger led tour which are always nice because you can ask questions and hear the more intimate stories of the property.
There seems to be a nice charm to these smaller monuments and I feel that it's just as important to visit them as it is the larger parks. They are our parks people let's keep them alive and help to keep their history alive. If you want more information on Pipe Springs National Monument just click here. Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to sharing more with you next week.

Brandan