Closing stanza of the trip

WHUFU Trip: August 2018 Lewis & Clark | 0

Wednesday – Thursday (Nov 28)

By my standards, $25 is a lot to pay for a spot where I pull into after dark and pull out of 20 minutes after I get up. But it was cheaper than a motel, and this night I think it really was worth it to sleep in a a quiet, dark place rather than a truck stop or a Walmart. It was very restful in the morning to look out over the fields … with the interstate and strip malls in the distance. There are showers, which would be pretty exciting if I wasn’t going to be at a real house tonight.

The point of the place is to be a recreational access site for the San Joaquin River. The river is quite close, but on the far side of a quite large levee, 30-40′ fall. Again on a more recreational day I would have walked, but this kind of a business day, so I drive up the levee on the way out to check out the river. It’s pretty sad to look at, basically a large, straight muddy drainage ditch between two levees. Nothing river-like about it at all.

I retrace last night’s path along the county road, past the giant high school back to the business area at the I-5 exit where I hit the Starbucks. After my Phoenix visit, the Starbucks server recognizes all my devices, so download my podcasts, surf a little web and eat my coffee cake. Starbucks ain’t so bad. Fill up the tank with really expensive California diesel, and I’m on my way.

It looks like fun to take Route 4 to get from the I-5 corridor to the Bay. It sneaks into the backside of Antioch, which means I can have breakfast at the Bridgehead Cafe, a place I discovered a few trips ago and quite enjoyed. The road was a little more of an adventure than I remembered. It was pretty, along the levees and over the fields, but also quite bumpy. But the excitement was a VERY narrow bridge. It wasn’t exactly one lane, but if a truck is coming, you might want to wait at your end. I waited for a big rig, but then halfway across, a smaller deliver truck came on, and we passes at about 5 mph, carefully watching our mirrors.

I remembered the Bridgehead Cafe as a no-nonsense, working class kind of place, and it was for sure that way again. But this time I got a bad waitress so I didn’t enjoy it as much.

I am staying at the Gannon’s tonight, but for complicated reasons I can’t arrive there until after 7:30 pm. So I have about a half day to kill. I call a couple of Les Schwabs to find one with no wait time in Concord, and go there and get my tires rotated, about four thousand mils later than I was supposed to. I had somehow thought Les Schwab was a nationwide chain, but when it was tire rotation time back in Tennessee, I googled around and discovered they are in the far west only. But now I am back in Les Schwab territory, so I pull in and get my free rotation and it feels great!

It’s still only 2:30-ish, so traffic does not yet suck. I get back on Route 4 to I-80 south to the Richmond Bridge to San Rafael, and I am back in the old stomping grounds. I still have three hours to kill. I decide the San Anselmo Library is where I will kill it. There are no parking places, so i drive till I find one and pull over and take a nap – always a great way to kill some time :). Around 5 I wake up and drive back, and I have hit the sweet spot between the daytime crowd and the nighttime crowd, and got a good spot very near the library … which was fortunate because it was pouring rain when I came out.


Set the alarm for 7:30 to get my van to Collie Automotive by 8:30. The fellow seemed to understand my long tale of woe, and unlike Hal Burns back in Santa Fe, I felt good about my prospects of getting everything fixed. I walked to downtown San Rafael, where there is a great variety of coffee places and breakfast places. The first place I came to was the donut shop. Run by Asians and filled with Latino workers. A couple of more blocks and I would get the office workers and tech nerds and nicer places, but this is the bus station end of downtown. It’s a gloomy, wet morning, and the ambience wasn’t much, but the fresh donuts were really, really good.

I hung out in the Gannon’s very comfortable basement most of the day. I went upstairs and pitched in on watching the toddlers for a while when Martha dropped by. About 4 pm I got the call – the van will not be ready today. There were five things of varying degrees of expensiveness that needed doing, we decided to do three of them – brake pads, something called the resonator (muffler-related I think) and the all important glow plugs.

Now that I know I’m not going anywhere, thoughts turned to dinner, and I make the happy discovery that it is still Happy Hour! So off to the Flatiron for a 5-5-5 meal – $5 beer, and two $5 appetizers. Greattime out!

Friday – Wednesday 

Downtown for coffee, thought I’d take a short walk, which turned onto a pretty strenuous walk to scope out the well hidden road between San Rafael and Terra Linda. It was very cool! Then check out the Peruvian restaurant on B Street on the way home.

Collie called around four, and $1,500 later I picked up my van, with six shiny new glow plugs! I feel whole again. Hang out with the Gannons until rush hour calms down, then off to Petaluma.

Not much worth reporting on in my very pleasant six nights with the family.

  • Sunday seventh grade CYO basketball league game starring Tyler
  • Monday Martha’s old friend Katie arrives, because she and Chad around going to see Echo and the Bunnymen in the City.
  • Tuesday those crazy kids also go to the Nine Inch Nails / Jesus and Mary Chain double bill, but through a series of unforced errors manage to miss JMC, which was the band they wanted to see.

I walked to town a couple of times, we ate out one morning, mostly I sat at their kitchen table and messed around on line until the kids got home from preschool.

On Tuesday night it sunk in that tomorrow will be my last day here, so I got serious about van stuff. Stuff like tidying up the van is a lot easier here in their back yard than it is at the condo. Trash and recycling bins are twenty feet away, that sort of thing.


Chad unearthed his air compressor for me last night, so this morning I was able to winterize the van – that is to drain the water system, then hook up the compressor and blow the water pipes clear. Clean up and reorganize a little, leave around noon-ish.

I’ve learned my lesson – don’t eat or otherwise dawdle at the Petaluma side of the Bay Area vortex. Get through the vortex while the gettin’s good, and save your dawdling for the far side. At this time of day, Maps showed a new route to the place I want to sleep tonight, Lake Solano Park. I-80 to Vacaville, then up back roads to come out right at the park. This is a revolutionary concept! I thought my only choices were through downtown Napa then the narrow winding mountain road past Lake Berrysea, or I-80 to I-505 to Winters and approach from the east. This new way suits me perfectly.

There is an odd little Cuban restaurant in Vacaville. Only a few miles out of my way, so I go there. It’s in a clapped out little suburban strip mall, and is primarily an ice cream and candy shop … that will make you Cuban breakfast if you want.

After my very late breakfast I discovered that there really are nice parts of Vacaville! I headed north and east to hook up with Pleasants Valley Road (Route 179). Soon enough I was in the hills, and it’s quite nice and remote feeling up there! Route 179 terminates at Route 128, right at my destination:

Lake Solano Campground:  

Pretty campground and park on a little lake made from damming Putah Creek, the outflow of Lake Berrysea.


Too expensive in the summer, but offseason, senior, no hookups for $13 is a good deal for such a pleasant spot.

There is a row of really nice no hookups sites at the back of the campground that I didn't discover until I was settled in. They are numbers 8-13, but that doesn't help much since the numbering system doesn't make sense.

Great birdwatching.

Kern River Campground is very pretty

Hooray! I’ve driven past this place many times, and even driven through a couple of times and it sure looked like a nice place to stay. Finally I am staying here! It’s not as quiet as it appears from Route 128 … because Route 128 is quite busy. It’s right across the small lake and sound travels across water.

The park is bursting with wildlife today – air, water, and ground. There are even peacocks! I find a very nice spot – no hookups (so $8 cheaper) and right across the road from the expensive lakeside sites. Sitting at my picnic table, a peacock ambles over to check me out. He looked for a moment like he was going to hop into the van, which would NOT have been ok. There are squirrels chattering, and quite a noisy group of small birds in the trees.

The shades of black and white and the red caps on the noisy birds look very woodpecker-like, but woodpeckers don’t hang out in flocks, do they? I look them up in the bird books I still lug around, and indeed acorn woodpeckers ARE social, so that’s what these are!

I took a lovely short hike along the lake, under the bridge, across the large picnic area east of Pleasants Valley Road (closed for the evening), and back across the road to the far uphill end of the campground and around the border back home in the dark. There are additional no-hookup sites up in the corner that are a lot nicer than my site, except they aren’t by the lake.

At dusk, the peacocks retire to a row of tall eucalyptus trees up the hill. With their long tails they have a weird and unnatural profile in the twilight. They seem out of place and they make really strange noises. But it is kind of exotic!


This place is so rich in bird life. More buffleheads than I’ve ever seen in one place, some goldeneyes, another unidentified but very stylish fishing duck(*), and a great blue heron. There were a few large dabbling ducks which sent me back to the bird books again. They are Wood Ducks! They look very pretty in the big books, and I’ve always wanted to see them in person. Now I have!

(*)The picture most similar to the mystery duck was of a female Hooded Merganser, but there were no ducks that looked like a male Hooded Merganser. Three females and no males seems odd, but that’s my best shot. [update: After my next visit I am pretty sure it was a female goldeneye. There were a bunch of them … paired with male goldeneyes.]

Hard to leave at this magical time of year, but noon-ish I make the five mile drive to Winters, another place I’ve wanted to check out.

Maybe because it’s the first place you hit going east of Napa, but Winters seems fully gentrified, like a little slice of Larkspur was scooped up and plunked down at the western edge of the Valley. Downtown there were a promising breakfast place and a promising coffee shop. I opted for Steady Eddy’s Coffee House, and it was really nice! If I could afford to live in Winters I would be here all the time.

I’m going nowhere much today, so I dawdled for a long time … laying the groundwork for running out of daylight, which I will eventually do … again. It’s a pretty long drive up to Williams – over an hour at 75mph – and by the time I got to Granzella’s I was ready to eat! Fish and chips and an IPA, and about pm I am heading to Sacramento NWR.

Get a little baked and do the short version of the nature hike. By the time I get back to the van we’re well into sunset, so I get crackin’ on the Auto Tour. I am the last auto for the day, but when I get to the viewing platform there is a pretty good crowd there. A tight little club of photographers. Everyone knew each other, each with at least $5,000 worth of cameras and telephoto lenses and tripods. Thousands of snow geese and a beautiful sunset – that’s what we’re all here for!

There’s about four more miles of Auto Tour after the viewing platform (at 10 mph another 20-ish minutes of very slow driving). When it was pretty dark, I and the other remaining vehicles all left. I don’t like cars behind me, especially their headlights at night, so I pulled over and let them all go ahead, one by one. There was an odd little dance where the last two cars went ahead, but then they stopped at a right angle turn towards the end for some unknown reason so I had to shine my lights on them for a minute while I went past. Now I’m sure I missed something!

Then the familiar south along the interstate 10 miles, then east across the rice fields 15 miles to good ole Colusa Casino.

Colusa Casino:  

RV parking is way in the back of the parking lot ... That part of the lot is still gravel there and quite muddy in the rain.

Casino is cozy and not unpleasant. Wifi is terrible except close to the coffee shop.


The casino was hoppin on Friday night, and the RV lot was pretty full.

My Colusa Casino ritual is to drive past the parking area to get a feel for how crowded it is tonight, then continue up front to park like a regular customer and go inside for my beer and or meal. Warriors game on ESPN tonight – woo! I wasn’t sure I was gonna get food, but the guy next to me ordered something that looked really good, so I got it too. So a pretty heavy meal and two IPAs, then drive around the corner to crash next to the big rigs. This is not the heart-healthy way to process a big meal, but that’s what I did.


The best part of Colusa Casino Life is getting up in the morning! It’s always quiet and peaceful and downright beautiful. The early risers are gone. There may be a neighbor or two walking their dog or puttering around their vehicle, but mostly I have this magnificent vista of the Sutter Buttes over the almond orchards all to myself. Sneak in a run through the tai chi long form, then off to the only breakfast place in the peaceful little town of Colusa.

The Market Street Grill is super busy. Tables full of dudes in camouflage must mean … it’s hunting season! The big round table in front is unoccupied, so I set up there with the ole laptop. After breakfast I do the last interesting thing I will do on this trip, I take the scenic route to Yuba City. So at the end of Market Street, instead of the usual right turn to follow Route 20 eastward, I take a left on River Road, cross the Sacramento River and take an immediate right on Butte Slough Road, which follows the twists and turns of the river for quite a while. It’s quite fun, but if I keep following it any further I will end up back at 20, so I take a left on Pass Road to explore a little more. It also is interesting, following the south edge of Sutter Buttes.  I goes through the little town of Sutter, and sneak into Yuba City right at the intersection of Routes 99 and 20. I like that route a lot!

Uneventful driving the rest of the way on Route 20 and I-80, back to my happy condo which I last saw on August 15! That first night was a little weird. The elevator is closed for repairs so I schlepped up  the stairs with three armloads of stuff, but still didn’t feel “moved in” in any way. The other little shock was that my bedroom was still in “summer mode”, no blanket on the bed, tee and shorts are out, sweaters and long sleeves are still packed away. Easily fixed, but still a little disorienting.