Universal Studios Hollywood


If you didn’t figure it out by the changing color of Brandon’s shirts in my Harry Potter post, we spent multiple days at Universal Studios. Our favorite stops  from day one (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Springfield, and the Waterworld Show) got a second visit on day two. The first day was sunny and hot, particularly for late October. After spending all morning running around (me in a hot, black wizard’s robe) we were ready for a cool down. The perfect solution was to sit in the front row (i.e., the splash zone) at the Waterworld show.

I had never seen the movie before (we’ve since corrected that) but the live show was amazing nonetheless. Waterworld was a postapocalyptic movie starring Kevin Costner that came out in 1995. It depicted a world covered entirely in ocean after the complete melting of the polar icecaps. The survivors live on boats or ramshackle man-made atolls, all searching for the mythical “dry land”.

The set was incredible but the actors and special effects really made the show. When the explosions went off you could really feel the heat. And they catapulted an entire float plane right over the set wall. Seriously. They catapulted it. We looked and couldn’t find any wires holding up the plane. All of the actors were also actors on current television shows with Universal Studios. We’re pretty out of touch with current TV shows and didn’t recognize any of them.

You can see the towers of the Hogwarts Castle over the set wall in this photo.

Continue reading “Universal Studios Hollywood”

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!


Yer a wizard, Harry! 

For most of you, it will come as no surprise to hear that I am a little bit obsessed with Harry Potter. I started reading the books when I was in middle school (about the same age as Harry in the beginning of the series) and fell in love. I know that they are technically kid’s fiction but I still love them and think they are brilliant and perfect. A magical world with just enough reality that you can almost believe it’s real.

Being a Potter fan also makes you part of a larger community. Fellow Potterheads share jokes and wisdom from the series, as well as debate various aspects of the stories. Just recently I had a completely serious discussion with a friend of mine regarding which Hogwarts house we would each be sorted into and the intricacies of wand lore. We decided I was a Gryffindor Prefect and Robert was in Ravenclaw. Brandon laughed at us, but don’t let him fool you. Brandon has also read the books, seen the movies, and has been known to make a Potter joke every now and then.

I have now read them all multiple times and listened to the British versions on audio book (Stephen Fry’s character voices are just far better than Jim Dale’s). I’ve seen all the movies more times than Brandon can tolerate (I re-watch them all at least once a year and also when I’m sick or having a bad week. Nothing cheers me up like Harry Potter.) However, I had yet to visit any of the real-world Harry Potter destinations. There are currently three theme parks, one each in California, Florida, and Japan, as well as numerous destinations in England where you can see filming locations used in the movies (castles, trains, streets, forests, etc.) or tour the man-made sets and see props as part of the studio tour.  The new Harry Potter play, “The Cursed Child”, is also currently on stage in London. Tickets for two years worth of showings of the play sold out in two weeks. But I was lucky (and persistent enough) to snag two tickets for May 2017.  I still haven’t done any planning for our side-trip to London but I’m super excited.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Orlando a few years ago and was instantly a must-go destination for this trip. In fact, someone even bought us tickets as part of our honeymoon adventure wedding registry (Thanks, Pat! We love you!) On our way to Oregon we learned that the newest Harry Potter park had just opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. Bingo! Now I could go see both American parks. We were already planning to visit the L.A. area so this was perfect.

Fair warning to my muggle readers (non-magic folk), I’ll be letting my nerd flag fly with this one. Laugh with me or at me, but I think we could all use a little more imagination in our lives. To my fellow witches and wizards, grab a butterbeer (or maybe a little fire whiskey) and enjoy.

dsc06574 Continue reading “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!”

It’s Otterly Spectacular on the California Coast


We managed to pack a lot of fun into our last stop, despite the fact that we only stopped for three full days. We drove to Monterey, California to visit their world-renowned aquarium (and sea otter exhibit!), went hiking in Pinnacles National Park, and spent a day Jeepin’ at the Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation area.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons we stayed so busy was because the campground we stayed at was one of the most depressing campgrounds we’ve seen in a while. Thousand Trails campgrounds have been working out pretty well so far in California, but this one was old, dusty, and badly maintained. The staff was rude, they had water leaks all over the place, and many of the electrical poles were out of service. If we hadn’t been trying to use up our free camping days with Thousand Trails, we probably would have looked for a different spot on day 2. This one was considered a “preserve”, which I guess was cool. There were lots of deer and I saw a bobcat once, but this might have only been because we were in the middle of nowhere.  Honestly, the only thing they appeared to be preserving was all the bad decor from the 80’s and 90’s. That also may have been the last time anyone vacuumed the carpet in the lodge. I could go on but there’s no need to beat a dead horse. There are plenty of negative corners of the internet and this is not one of them.

On the upside, we did lots of exploring because we prefered to spend the day elsewhere. It was a very long drive to and from Monterey (about 1.5 hours) but it was pleasant countryside. And overall, the Thousand Trails membership has been money well spent and a good experience. So far just one bad egg in a very large state.

Also, the nearby town of Hollister was small, and run-down in parts, but it had a decent grocery store, the largest independent coffee-shop I’ve ever been in (Mars Hill Coffeehouse), and surprisingly good Chinese food (The Happy Cafe).

Continue reading “It’s Otterly Spectacular on the California Coast”

Getting Lost in Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park has a reputation that precedes itself. The guidebook authors throw around words like grand, majestic, and noble. Regarding Yosemite, conservationist and naturalist John Muir wrote, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” It is also one of America’s favorite national parks and one of the oldest. The park was officially established on October 1, 1890, though it was originally much smaller than its current size of 747,956 acres. Yosemite also holds a special place in the history of land conservation in the American West. In 1903, John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt on a camping trip here in an effort to convince the President to increase conservation efforts out west. The trip was a resounding success. During his administration Roosevelt established 5 national parks, 23 national monuments, 55 wildlife preserves, and 150 national forests. That’s quite a legacy to live up to. Continue reading “Getting Lost in Yosemite National Park”

San Francisco & the Point Reyes National Seashore


Neither of us had ever been to San Francisco (unless you count a couple of long layovers in the Oakland Airport), but we’ve had some trouble visiting large cities on this trip because we’ve found they generally aren’t very RV friendly. Most notably, we completely skipped Seattle and Denver, both places we had hoped to visit. For RVers visiting a large popular city, there is often a choice of either staying close to the city (for a price) or staying far outside of the city, which somewhat kills the allure of visiting the city in the first place. However, we were determined to make our visit to San Francisco work (despite its reputation for high prices) because we had an extra incentive: visiting friends!

Our friends Cody and Jaz live on the east side of the bay and our friends Coleman and Kelly live outside of Sacramento but Coleman currently commutes to the bay for work. For those of you familiar with the area, yes, Coleman has one of the longest daily commutes of anyone I know. With traffic it can be an hour and a half in the morning and two and a half to three hours at night.

The last time we saw these guys was at our wedding back in April. You may also remember them from our visit to Folsom Lake  on our way to Texas in March. These are some of our favorite people and we were super excited that a weekend campout worked with everyone’s  schedules. Continue reading “San Francisco & the Point Reyes National Seashore”

Southern Redwoods: Avenue of the Giants


The final stop on our three-part tour of the redwoods was the iconic Avenue of the Giants. The Avenue is a 33 mile scenic drive through an area of particularly large giant trees. Some of the tallest redwoods have been found in these groves, so naturally, it was worth a stop.

We stayed at the Giant Redwoods RV Park in Myers Flat, a tiny little town right on the Avenue, nestled into the bank of the Eel River. When we checked into our campsite the camp host gave us two warnings.

First, don’t swim in the river. The river is full of an algae that contains a neurotoxin. For humans, the toxin is just a skin irritant, but for dogs it can be deadly. She said that most dogs die within an hour of drinking from the river. We had not seen any stray dogs in Myers Flat and I think we know why.

Second, don’t give anyone the bathroom code. This area of California (Humboldt County) is widely known for growing marijuana. Some of it may be grown legally as part of the medical marijuana program, but I suspect much of it is not. Marijuana growers were using these forests to hide their plants long before legal medical marijuana was even introduced as a concept. Well, when harvest time comes around, the growers need extra help to trim all of the plants. We happened to visit during harvest and all of these tiny towns were suddenly full of migrant workers here to trim the pot plants. Our camp host called them “trimigrants”. The migrant workers didn’t really bother us, but our camp host was sick and tired of the trimigrants using her campground bathrooms without paying the camp fee. We agreed not to give out the bathroom code and got a good laugh out of the whole situation. Honestly, the trimigrants are probably a nice boost to the local economy. The restaurants were doing a steady business and the tiny local bar was overflowing with people playing guitar and singing along to Hootie and the Blowfish songs.

But we were here for the trees.  Continue reading “Southern Redwoods: Avenue of the Giants”

Coastal Redwoods: The Trees of Mystery and Fern Canyon


The drive to our next camping spot was our second shortest yet. (The shortest was while staying at Lake Cushman in Washington.) From Crescent City we drove a mere 19 miles south to Klamath, California where we would be staying at the Mystic Forest RV Park, just minutes from the Trees of Mystery and the famous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.


The Mystic Forest RV Park is an older, smaller park but we were instantly charmed by the adorable older woman running the front desk. Her name was actually Carolyn but we referred to her as “Sweet Caroline” for the rest of our stay. (Thanks Neil Diamond, that catchy tune was stuck in our heads for days.) Carolyn was super friendly and told us about her grand kids and great-grand kids. She also gave us a map of the area (a photocopy of her own hand-drawn map) and spent at least 15 minutes telling us about all of the major attractions and her favorite places. We picked up other maps along the way but none were as useful as Carolyn’s hand-drawn version.  Continue reading “Coastal Redwoods: The Trees of Mystery and Fern Canyon”

Northern Redwoods: Revisiting the Boy Scout Tree


April of last year was a really big month for us. We took the Alpha Uno on its first bona fide journey. We decided to quit our jobs and run away in an RV. And, finally, we decided to get married. That’s a lot to pack into one month!

It all began with a trip to the redwoods with our friends Cody and Jaz. We had never seen the redwoods before and we had never driven the Alpha Uno more than a couple of hours from home. It was a big trip for us, but at the time we didn’t realize that it was going to completely change the course of our lives. But in fact, this entire plan, the whole grand adventure, the idea was hatched while hiking back from the Boy Scout Tree in Jedediah Smith State Park. We were surrounded by the biggest living things we had ever seen, completely amazed that a place like this could exist, when one of us said to the other, “What if we just kept going?” We could drive around the entire country. See everything. Of course, we both try to take credit for that statement and can’t actually remember who said it.

From there, things snowballed pretty quickly. Before we knew it we were sending out wedding invitations and resignation letters. And we still think this was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We know it seems strange to give so much credit to a tree (even a really big tree) but we felt like this trip wouldn’t be complete unless we went back to the Boy Scout Tree to say thank you.  Continue reading “Northern Redwoods: Revisiting the Boy Scout Tree”

Crater Lake National Park


We’ve wanted to visit Crater lake National Park ever since we moved to Oregon six years ago. Honestly, I didn’t even know Crater Lake existed until I lived in Oregon. Then, suddenly, I was seeing pictures of it everywhere. And for good reason. The place is breathtakingly beautiful. It is also on every list of “must see” Oregon travel destinations. A crown jewel in a state full of exceptionally beautiful places.

Crater Lake was formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Nearly 8,000 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted in an explosion said to be 100 times more powerful than the eruption that blew the top off of Mount St. Helens in 1980. The heroic blast caused the mountain to collapse in on itself, forming a vast crater. The crater slowly filled with water from area snow melt until it formed the deepest lake in North America. Crater Lake also holds some of the clearest water in the world, with visibility all the way down to around 140 feet. But what astounds most visitors to the lake is its exceptionally blue color. The sapphire tinged water is the result of light refracting through the superbly clear water. Because the water is so clear, it appears even bluer than the sky above.

Our first view of the lake, however, was nothing more than a thick white cloud of snow, but more on that later. First, you have to hear about the absolutely perfect camping spot we found. Continue reading “Crater Lake National Park”