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Open Roads Forum  >  Truck Campers

 > Trip Report: April in the California Coast Ranges

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Tiger4x4RV

Inland Empire, Southern California

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Joined: 03/14/2007

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Posted: 03/24/15 10:19am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

For your enjoyment and possible inspiration, an April ramble in the California Coast Ranges, Los Padres NF, and other spots. Location: south of Santa Cruz, north of Los Angeles, and mostly west of I-5.

This trip was undertaken in April, 2013, and never written up. Here it is almost April again, I've been stuck in the house for months with a broken right ankle, and I really want to go somewhere. Maybe you do, too.

Suitable for mid-size TC's and smaller. 2WD OK in good weather. Some roads are dirt, and some of those are probably washboarded. I took 10 days for this trip, but it could easily be stretched to a longer time by adding side trips and hikes.

First night: a visit to the Wind Wolves Preserve. Check their website for current hours and policies. I camped in the free campground, but now the page says tents only. Call or e-mail them for info.

View from my campsite. A bobcat went by the picnic table several times. No, not an invisible one. I was just too slow with the camera.
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Onward past blooming orange groves and oil wells, via Taft and Maricopa (you are going to need a good map for this trip), to Carrizo Plain National Monument. No flowers; it was as dry in 2013 as it is this year. Prepare for rough road.

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Stop at the abandoned ranch house and take a look at the old farm equipment.

Selby camp at Carrizo Plain. Free. Quieter than it looks like it would be from this photo. There is another camp at KCL, and limited remote camping is allowed. See the Carrizo Plain National Monument page for more info.

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Onward, north on Bitterwater Road, right one mile on 46, then northward through the lush green Cholame Valley, to Parkfield, located on the San Andreas fault.

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Now entering the Pacific Plate. Going the other way over the bridge, the sign says leaving the PP.

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Take Vineyard Canyon Road to San Miguel (visit the mission), then Indian Valley Road, Peach Tree Road, and Highway 25 to Pinnacles National Park. For a more peaceful drive, do this on a weekday.

Condor watching station at the Pinnancles NP campground. I did not see any condors.

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The park webpage has tons of info about the condor program, including profiles of each bird and links to condor cams.

Leaving the national park, follow Highway 25 through green ranching country and vineyards along the San Benito River, take J1 up and over Panoche Pass. I felt like I was driving through Emil Kosa paintings. Proceed through bare dry Panoche Valley where everything was for sale and signs said "Save Panoche Valley" as the ranches awaited replacement by a solar power farm. There is a 40-mile side trip here to the ghost town and abandoned mercury mines at New Idria, but I skipped it.

Near I-5, turn north on Highway 33, passing field crops, noticing the San Joaquin River Restoration Project which re-uses agricultural runoff to grow cattle feed, and visit the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, which is interesting even if the birds are not there.

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I camped at Medeiros area of the San Luis Reservoir SRA, primitive camping on the shore of the San Luis Forebay. There are several other camps nearby if you don't like this one.

Next, head westward on Highway 152 over Pacheco Pass. I camped at the Santa Cruz KOA, then went on the Elkhorn Slough Safari, a narrated nature tour. You can also tour this area in your own kayak. There are hiking trails and a visitor center at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve..

Our boat captain said that some of these baby seals were only hours old.

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Birds at Elkhorn Slough.

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Leaving Elkhorn Slough, head south on Highway 1 and turn east on G16, Carmel Valley Road. After passing through rather congested traffic, proceed eastward on a narrow country road to Arroyo Seco campground.

Along G16.

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Nice campground at Arroyo Seco. I stayed in the "modern" section.

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Continuing on G16.

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Re-enter civilization for a while, heading north to Greenfield, then along the river to King City. This is a good place to resupply. Then turn southward again, take G14 to Jolon and Fort Hunter Liggett. You will have to show valid photo ID, and if driving (all vehicles, including motorcycles), must have valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. This is an active military base, and there may be temporary closures due to military activity.

On the base, visit Mission San Antonio de Padua. If you are tired of camping, you can stay at the Hacienda Milpitas; this historic building was designed by Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst. I stayed in one of the tower rooms once, but not on this trip.

On Fort H-L land, the sense of being in untouched Old California is wonderful: rolling green hills, oak trees, flowers, and a few military-added surprises.

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Take Nacimiento-Ferguson Road over the coast range to Highway 1. This is a narrow, winding, and sometimes steep road. There can be traffic, especially on weekends. Take your time and enjoy.

A possible alternate route from the summit for the very adventurous: South Coast Ridge Road. Disclaimers: 4WD may be necessary, at least part of the area has burned since I drove it in 2008, poison oak is everywhere along this route, etc etc. Maybe just go the first few miles (expect opposing traffic) to Prewitt Ridge?

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N-F Road comes out at Kirk Creek USFS camp on Highway 1. A bit further south, Plaskett Creek USFS camp is also available.

Some views heading south on Highway 1:

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For a possible side trip, tour the Piedras Blancas Light Station.

Elephant seals at Piedras Blancas:

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Yes, these are zebras, a legacy from William Randolph Hearst, often visible along Highway 1.

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You are now entering the San Luis Obispo Coast area. There are many state, county, and public campgrounds and parks, Audubon sanctuaries, etc. This is one of my favorite areas to visit, and I have covered it in other trip reports, so will give just a taste here:

Morro Bay

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walking trail at the end of Pecho Road in Los Osos

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Old ranch house, the HQ at Montana de Oro State Park

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Time to head home and back to the world of employment. My last camp night was at Jawbone Canyon off Highway 14.

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2006 Tiger CX 4x4, 8.1 L gas V-8, Allison 6-speed


Reddog1

El Dorado, CA

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Posted: 03/24/15 10:39am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice report. This area is pretty close to my backyard, and I have seen very little of it. I am a native of California, and have yet to see the Hearst Castle. In my early teens, I explored the warehouses where many pieces (not used) of the Castle were stored.

Thanks for posting.

Wayne

Tiger4x4RV

Inland Empire, Southern California

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Posted: 03/24/15 11:11am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks, Wayne. Your seal of approval means a lot.

jefe 4x4

West Slope, Northern Sierra Nevada

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Posted: 03/24/15 11:25am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

It's never too late to post this kind of trip. I have been to many of the places you have visited, but not for decades. I was not aware you could get on the military base. The Carrizo Plain is an erie place. I always expect 'the big one' whenever I'm there. That's not a bad thing since your domicile is on wheels, and nothing is going to fall on you, but having lived close to and through 3 major earthquakes in the L.A. area it always gives pause. (Sylmar/1971, Whittier/1987?, Northridge/1990's.) It's nice to see things are about the same, except a little drier. My thought is what a distance it is from the coastal SLO area to Jawbone Cyn. That's an ALL day trip on a good day on winding roads.
Thanks for the report. I hope you recover enough to make more trips and tell us about them. Your perspective is unique on the TC forum.
jefe


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CptnBG

Salem and Smith Mtn Lake, Va

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Posted: 03/24/15 11:30am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for sharing, great photos! Hope the foot heals soon.

P.S. Really like those Tigers!!


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bka0721

Republic of Colorado

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Posted: 03/24/15 11:42am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

What a morning treat to find this, this morning. Thanks for another example of the world around us is not always days of driving away. While I empathize with the broken ankle and hope you pause and take the time necessary for it to heal slowly. But not too slowly that you fail to do more adventures in the near future. For those can and are good therapy.

b

dakonthemountain

Crestline, California

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Joined: 04/13/2004

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Posted: 03/24/15 01:15pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for sharing your fun trip with us! Looks to be many lovely places with beauty everywhere!.... I can't WAIT to get out this year, and some of those places are on my list. Thanks for the pre-trip tips! [emoticon]

Dak


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~DJ~

Boise, Idaho

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Posted: 03/24/15 04:07pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great TR Tiger!!! Looks very interesting and appealing. Take care of that ankle!~!


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Cannon George

Ojai, CA

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Joined: 07/28/2004

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Posted: 03/24/15 05:00pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Tiger - Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed the photographs. Although in my "backyard," it always helps to be reminded not to take this scenery for granted. Although I enjoy planning longer trips to remote destinations my "recharging" weekends are spent at any one of these great spots!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but today it was 78? degrees in Ojai and may kiss 90 degrees before the week is out. If we don't get any more rain soon (doubtful) the green grass and blooming native plants in this area will soon give way to brown grass and dormant sage. Summer is arriving quickly this year!

ScottG

Bothell Wa.

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Posted: 03/24/15 05:00pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That was the next best thing to being on a road trip ourselves.
Thanks for posting!

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