13 California Parks, January 2022

The evening of January 2, 2022 we landed at Brannan Island State Park. We would then travel to Millerton Lake SRA, Colonel Allensworth SP, Black Rock Canyon SP, Joshua Tree NP, Salton Sea SRA, Silver Strand SB, San Elijo SB, Malibu Creek SP, Pismo Beach SP, Jalama County Park, Hearst San Simeon SP, and  finish up at Pfeiffer Big Sur SP.

First Night at Brannan Island SRA.  We had lunch in Rio Vista, grocery shopped, and got settled into the Airstream for the night. We have always loved bird watching and this year we decided to amp it up. John had read about the Woodbridge Reserve and that it was a reserve for Sandhill Cranes. We headed toward Lodi to check it out. Lots of Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans and the Greater White-footed Goose to be seen. It’s impossible to get to close as the cranes need all their energy to breed and travel. There are fifteen species of cranes in the world.

The next day we headed to Millerton Lake SRA. The first night we had a gorgeous sunset in site 96 and the park was so empty we decided to stay an additional night. A coyote visited us both days and when we hiked from the campground to the Buzzards Roost Trail we encountered another one. The second night we put together our new BBQ and watched a another sunset. Millerton Lake has 144 sites and they can be found on the east side of the lake. There are 27 hookup sites but we chose to stay away from them. We saw a lot of hawks and woodpeckers.

Heading south on Thursday, our goal was to get past Bakersfield but driving 99 was a bit tiresome and instead we headed to Colonel Allensworth SHP where we have stayed before. Walking around this park is interesting, looking at the small village and its architecture as well as seeing the train go by. Dinner was poached salmon!

Heading further south, the goal was to get to Redrock Canyon for the weekend. It is a first come first serve campground and you must bring your own water. They do have a dump station, and a visitors center but the center was closed. The weather was clear, high 60 days and very cold nights. We stayed three nights in site 29, had some adventures with the truck and its battery (thankful for solar and neighbors), but timing is everything. When we hiked Hagen Canyon, we chatted with a volunteer that recommended the Nightmare Gulch Trail, which was closing soon due to it being a bird of prey nesting area so we drove to that trail and saw high redock cliffs. There are also a couple of hikes in the campground itself we discovered.

Next up Joshua Tree where we had reservations for four nights at Jumbo Rocks. On the way we had to get propane (best place are U-Halls) and a new battery for the truck. We also had to remember to not turn the truck off, as our battery was in bad shape. We found both in Barstow. The amount of time we spent dealing with this did eat into our arrival time in Joshua Tree, and after we got water at the Visitor’s Center in Joshua Tree we got to our campsite in the dark. This is not fun to back in, where the signage is flaky and the sites are short. After 5 tries we did it and fit into site 103!

Jumbo Rocks was packed, and it was January 10th! So hard to get weekend sites in National parks these days. We had a great stay, good weather, and did some great hikes. Jumbo Rocks is in a good location to discover the park, as we have also stayed at Black Rock Campground. There are three trails out of Jumbo Rock and we hiked the Skull Rock and Discovery Trails. We also hike within the town of Joshua Tree where our good friend Geary lives and stayed Friday night there in his yard. The highlight was the hike to Lost Horse Mine, where we saw Big Horn Sheep up real close at the mine and seeing our friend! On Saturday we left for the Salton Sea.

Salton Sea has always been a park that we had heard stories about, and it has changed drastically over the years due to the decreasing water levels. FYI – Death Valley is at 282 feet below sea level and the Salton Sea is 227 below with a lake. I highly suggest reading the stories about it, and the visitor center has a great video. We camped the first night at Mecca Beach which is just a parking area with a space behind with a table and fire pit. These are back in sites without any privacy and also reservable. You can hike to the visitors center along the beach and also see the Varner Harbor from this campground and the bird life is worth it. The next day we drove down to Corvina Beach to check it out, went back to get our Airstream, and went to that campground for the second night. It’s stark and barren but the ability to camp roadside and see the lake and surrounding mountains, and the train, was well worth it. And we were able to wear shorts in January! On ward to another reservation at Silver Stand State Beach in San Diego for three nights, and our furthest place south in California (646 miles).

Silver Stand State Beach is another campground that is impossible to stay in over the weekend. Our site #104 was good for beach access and a slight view. They build a beach dune to protect the campground in the winter which can hinder that view we all like. This is another campground that looks the gate at night. I can only imagine how packed the beach is in the summer, and this campground was also full for the middle of January. We arrived at 2:00 to go into the site, headed to Coronado to hit a market and had rain that night. The campground is sandwiched between the ocean and the bay and you can walk to the bay easily, not so much to Coronado, due to the military base between Silver Strand and the town. The next day we went again into Coronado to do laundry, get deli sandwiches and relax in our campsite. We also checked out the bay, watched the action in the sky with the military, and had a beautiful sunset. On Wednesday we booked a cruise to see San Diego Bay for two hours with Flagship Cruises and we were one of two couples on the entire boat for the first hour, then ten more couples came on board the second hour. It was well worth it and lunch in the Seaport Village was fabulous. San Elijo SB was next on our reservation list.

San Elijo SB was a one night destination for two reasons, we could only get one night and we wanted to see our good friend from college who lives close by. It was an interesting drive into the park as one can only access it from the north and we were coming up from the south. We had to navigate into Encinitas and come around then from the north. The campground was full, again this is a Thursday in January, which blows me away and there are 171 sites. We were in site 121, a quick walk to the famous Cardiff Kook.

Driving out on a Friday morning we headed towards Malibu Creek SP. We have stayed at the private RV park in Malibu before, but wanted to go inland for a bit. Such a tough drive as it seemed all the the way there the freeways were being worked on. Luckily we had reservations for Friday and Saturday night.

Malibu Creek exceeded our expectations the minute we arrived because of its landscape. It was however hard getting into our site. This park has short and unlevel sites with berms and big rock barriers which are unforgiving, which we did not test, but we did have to park our truck by the bathrooms. Friday and Saturday night were pretty full and the weather was nice, so the day-use area was packed both days. On Saturday we hiked into the visitors center and also to the Rock Pool. The visitor center is was originally a home and during the studio years the caretaker lived there. The Rock Pool is close by and is a pool of water that is very scenic. There were people climbing the edges of the pool on the far side. Sunday we decided to hike up to the MASH site and when we got to the river crossing, I was not comfortable crossing and we turned back, visited Century Lake, looking for another place to cross the water but to no avail. Subsequently John went back to the river crossing and I returned to camp. By the time he got back to the crossing someone had fixed it so it was easier to cross. That afternoon we decided to call to change our next reservations at Jalama County Park to two days further out, so we could have two more nights at Malibu. We were able to make reservations for our same site #52 for those two nights. Monday we headed into Agoura to get propane at the U-Hall, grocery shop and check out the King Gillette Ranch, but it was closed. Next up was Jalama Beach, a county park, run by Santa Barbara.

The 14 mile drive out to Jalama Beach is very bumpy, but the views are worth it. Our campsite was on the north end of the park, was a back in and close to our neighbors who had a generator, but luckily they didn’t use it. The bird life was great as was access to the beach for walking and watching the sunsets.

Heading north, we were without any reservations, and also had to decide if we were going to head inland or continue up Highway 1. Because the weather was so fabulous and Highway 1 had just reopened after the Bixby Fire we decided on the coast. Oceano Campground at Pismo Beach # 70 became our next stop and we enjoyed the site, actually wanting to stay another night, however the only sites open were in the hookup section which was packed. We opted to continue north. While there though we hiked thru the dunes to watch all the activities on the beach.

Hearst San Simeon – Washburn Campground #224 was our next stop on January 28, and we like this campground for its landscape and views. The hike to the beach was great and the Snowy Plovers where at first hard to see then they seemed to be all around us and then we took the San Simeon Trail back to our site. We opted to stay another night and took the trail around the north end of the campground and checked out the other campground on our way to the beach the next day.

The last two days of our January adventure found us at Pfeiffer Big Sur in site #91. We had to play the can’t register until 2:00 pm game, and then our assigned site was a bit of a challenge to get into but it was worth it. The campground was basically empty and was under heavy maintenance. Our campground loop was set to close the day we left for it’s time with maintenance. We stayed two nights and explored the campground and hiked the Buzzards Roost Viewpoint Trail (Millerton Lake also has a trail with the same name we also hiked on this trip). The lodge was open, but again not many people to be seen , due to the Bixby Fire closure. Our next stop was moochdocking and then we took the Cloud to have a ceramic coat put on at Vinnie’s. It was a great trip and now we get ready for our three month trip to Alaska!