California RV Trip, A New Experience!

At the end of August Theo and I traveled to Oxnard, CA for my niece Amanda’s wedding.  Normally such a venture would amount to jumping on a plane, renting a car, and booking a room.  However, this time we tried something different.  We rented a 19′ RV from Cruise America.  I won’t talk about the RV experience in detail here, but if you are interested in the pluses and minuses of renting an RV I’ve covered the specifics in my blog.  Interestingly the whole idea of renting an RV was born out of our desire to take our dog Zoie on the trip and the RV was the only sort of rented vehicle that would allow pets.  In short we enjoyed the venture in spite of the fact that it turned out to very expensive.

Since we were renting an RV we turned the wedding trip into a short vacation.  I planned the itinerary for months to make sure we had good places to stay and interesting things to do.  Our travel route south would be along the coast with stops in Pacific City and Brookings, OR.  From Brookings we traveled to Paso Robles, CA for an afternoon of wine tasting.  The leg from Brookings to Paso Robles was educational for me in that I learned that I should not ask Theo to endure a 600 mile drive even in an RV.  Since I had a 700 mile leg planned on the trip back north I quickly got online and undid plans meticulously made months earlier and divided that long day into two shorter days.

Besides the wedding, which was held at the beautiful Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel in Oxnard, CA, highlights of the trip included a fun day of wine tasting in Paso Robles and a fun-filled day in the redwoods.  It was fun to be able to stop anywhere an prepare a meal.  For example, on the way back north we ate lunch overlooking Pismo Beach, CA.  Pretty cool!  On this trip I also gained a real appreciation for Oregon State Parks.  We stayed two nights at McGrath State Beach while in Oxnard for the wedding and frankly it was a trashy place.  It was expensive, relatively dirty, small campsites, had to pay for showers, and it was anything but dog friendly.  Oregon State Parks (e.g. Beverly Beach) are far superior.

Below are a few selected photos from our trip.

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A Day in the Southeastern Arizona Vineyards!

Vineyard adjacent to the Rancho Rossa winery.

Time to catch up on some of the things Theo and I have been doing these past few months.  For much of June and some of July I (Don) was in southeastern Arizona doing research on hummingbirds.  Towards the end of my stay Theo was able to join me for a weekend.  Even though this was a working trip we were able to squirrel away a day to play and spent it doing a little wine tasting.  Believe it or not there are wineries in Arizona!  I must admit that I aways laugh when coming into the tiny town of Sonoita, AZ (google it) where I encounter a sign that says “Welcome to Wine Country.”  It is hard to imagine any sort of wine grape growing in the hills surrounding the Sonoran Desert! But indeed there are several small wineries in and around the Sonoita area.

Theo and I visited a total of 6 wineries on our excursion.  Here are the highlights. The best wine came from our first stop at Callahhan’s Vineyard.  What was interesting here was that they produced some varietals from grapes sourced in California (many of the wineries here get California grapes).  Frankly these wines were pretty mediocre.  However, the red blends they produced from their estate grapes were better than average and we purchased some to have with dinner that evening.  The winery itself isn’t much but the winemaker is talented, fun and we had a good time.  Good thing too since the quality of the wines went down hill pretty much the rest of the day.

The outside of Kief-Joshua Vineyards.

The most elaborate tasting room award goes to Kief-Joshua Vineyards.  Their wines were nothing to write home about tasting very green and tart, but the facilities were palacial compared to every place else we went.  The building was designed somewhat like a castle and the interior was upscale for SE Arizona.  They sold gourmet foods and their winemaker (I think he was there winemaker) was carrying a wallaby around in an artificial pouch!  Where else in Arizona are your going to see a wallaby?  We had a fun time just immersing ourselves in the environment of this winery.

Theo playing behind the Canelo Hills bottle tree!

The most unique winery feature was at Canelo Hills Winery.  Here they had a really unique bottle garden with which Theo became intensely fascinated.  In fact she actually started posing for several pictures in this bottle garden which is totally out of character for her.  The winery had a bottle archway, bottle tree, and  many bottle impaled in the ground.  Their wines were okay but I honestly think we spent more time outside the winery than inside.

Theo in the Hops & Vines tasting room.

I think the funnest winery of the day was our last stop at Hops and Vines which was actually just outside of Sonita.  Hops and Vines probably had the second best wines we had during our journey and was the only winery that served sparkling.  Theo’s biggest catch here was a tortilla warmer that she purchased from a woman selling her wares in the winery.  This winery plans to also build a brewery (thus the name Hops and Vines) although that will happen sometime down the road.  The winery had somewhat of a “bar” kind of feel which I think will appeal to the more casual, none traditional wine taster.

Theo bonding with the Rancho Rossa wine dog!

I cannot end without acknowledgement of Theo’s ability to bond with just about any winery dog on the planet.  When we visited Rancho Rossa Theo was immediately attracted to their pooch and spent more time giving “tummy rubs” than tasting wine.  Perhaps she was just missing Zoie, but I’ve seen her latch on to  dogs and pretty much every winery we have visited that has one.  I think we might have bought some wine here and if we did the dog did more to sell it that the quality of the wine.  Guess the dog needs to ask for a commission!  A short slide show of our adventure is below.  If you want to see the entire photo album from the trip click here.

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Our Weekend in Pacific City, Oregon Coast!

So, a week or so ago Theo dropped the hint that it might be nice to spend a weekend at the coast sometime during my Spring break.  Conveniently she pulled up the web page for the Inn at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City which just happened to have a special doggie deal that would allow Zoie to enjoy a little pampering as well.  After 32+ years of marriage I have learned that the proper response to such suggestions is “book it sweetie!”

Theo and Zoie sitting on the beach at Pacific City!

Theo’s week of anticipation began with me coming down with the flu last Monday afternoon.  I was pretty much housebound all week and when Friday, our departure day, rolled around I was praying for enough endurance to make the drive to the coast.  I actually started to shed that dreaded flu by Friday afternoon and to my surprise made the drive Friday evening without issue in spite of the driving rain we encountered while traveling over the coast range.  We managed to make to the Inn in Pacific City at about 9:30 pm.

Theo enjoying the beach at Pacific City with Zoie!

I was not expecting much out of the weekend as we were at the end of the wettest March on recorded for the state of Oregon (7.75 inches of rain total) and the heavens appeared to be trying to not only exceed the record by beat it into submission.  My thoughts turned to what I might do with my 4.5 year-old labrador retriever that would be pent up in a motel room for the weekend.  If you have ever owned a labrador retreater you know exactly what I mean!  However, Saturday turned out to be a very useable day in which we managed two lengthy beach walks (the afternoon walk was actually delightful and sometimes sunny) which seemed to empty the labrador fuel cells.  With our intent to relax we packed some food to make our own lunches (Theo made a wonder tuna salad spread) and were satisfied with pizza in our room for dinner (the pizza actually supplied dinner, and for me breakfast and lunch on Sunday).

Storm clouds approaching Pacific City!

Sunday was not so pleasant as winds sometimes reached gale force and it rained, rained, rained, hailed, rained, rained, and for good measure rained some more.  Needless to say we just hung out in our room until checkout time at noon.  Theo seemed quite content to just lay around and enjoy doing nothing…something she does not get to do often….and had to be prodded a bit to get ready to leave.  When we finally checked out we drove across the street to the beach to let Zoie stretch her legs one last time before the drive home.  Theo sat in the car while I bundled up to go out and let Zoie run.  I started laughing when after about 5 minutes Zoie had had enough of the rain and wind and let me know clearly that it was time to get back in the van.  So, Zoie and I both climbed into the back seat of the van to get out of the rain and after changing my shoes decided to climb over into the drivers seat so I would not have to go back outside.  In doing so my head hit the rear-view mirror and knocked it off the windshield.  So instead of going home from Pacific City we had to make a side trip to Tillamook (where they have a Fred Meyer) to by a kit to repair the mirror before our trip home.

One final note.  Before we left Pacific City on Sunday we stopped and did a wine tasting at the Twist Wine Company.  The only other winery that Theo and I had every visited on the coast was the Nehalem Winery which as an absolute disaster. Needless to say we were not expecting much.  To our surprise we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed their wines.  Their wines are easy drinking, drink now sorts of wines but they are very reasonably priced (most expensive is $25) and you would not be afraid to put them on your table.  Nice interesting everyday drinking wines.

Below are a few photos from our weekend.  If you want to see the entire Flickr album click on this link.

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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Walk

On Saturday October 15 we (Don and Theo……oh yes, and Zoie) participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) walk inPortland, OR in honor of Theo’s cousin Liz.  This was Don’s (and Zoie’s) second year participating in the AFSP walk as part of the Wine-by-Joe (last year Theo was still in school and in Bellingham, WA for labs and exams).  We are proud of the fact that over our two years of participation we have raised more than $500 for this very worthy cause.

The Wine-by-Joe team is sponsored by the Wine-by-Joe/Dobbes Family Estate Winery and its owner/winemaker Joe Dobbes.  Joe has been personally touched during his life by suicide and is a generous supporter of AFSP.  Last years team, which included many Dobbes employees was huge (see bottom photo on the right).  This year the grape harvest in the Willamette Valley was a month late and first fruit arrived at the Dobbes winery on the day of the walk.  This is something that can’t be controlled and prevented all the winery employees, including Joe, from participating.  Theo, Zoie, and I were pleased to represent team Wine-by-Joe!  Below are some selected photos we took during the walk.

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An Enjoyable Day at the Dobbes Family Estate Picnic!

Theo with friends Dean, Satin, Terrie, and Joe at the picnic

Today Theo and I spent the afternoon at the third-annual Dobbes Family Estate picnic held at their Larkins Estate Vineyard.  I’ve been to two of the three vineyard picnics and the weather at both were hot.  Not sure what the temperature was today but I know I shed a lot of sweat.  These events are always fun in that we get to eat some good food (the sandwiches, although simple in appearance were absolutely amazing), spend time with good friends, and chat with Joe Dobbes and the rest of the winery staff.  Below is a slideshow of photos I shot today (in spite of my camera’s dying battery).  If you want to see them via Flickr click here.

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