Lifestyle

Travel: Glamping to Connect with Nature

By May 15, 2014 No Comments

At the end of each camping season, I already look forward to the beginning of the next. Last November was no different: When the chill settled in, I dreamed up our Easter break. But this time, instead of a tent pitching expedition, I planned a dog friendly glamping road trip within California.

Our trip was such an incredible experience, I thought I’d share it with those of you who are ready to give glamping a try!

 

Pigeon Point LighthousePescadero
Pigeon Point Lighthouse

I had read about this place a few years back. Despite negative experiences with Youth Hostels and the fact that this one does not accept dogs, we decided to give the “family room with shared bathroom” a try. On our way there, we stopped at La Nebbia Winery to refill a few bottles for the trip. After boarding Zizou, we checked into the lighthouse to find that the amenities unfortunately did not meet our expectations: Run down and way too expensive for their condition. And to make things worse, the much-anticipated “Jacuzzi-tub on the Pacific” was closed. But I swallowed the price tag when we spotted countless whales offshore: Seeing so many at once was such an unexpected perk! The surrounding setting was beautiful and the coastal winds invigorating. We walked on the nearby beaches, explored tide pools and played football in the (invasive, but nonetheless pretty) ice plants in bloom, filled our mesh bags with tasty strawberries, avocadoes, and peas from a farmstand and had the famously delicious artichoke soup at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero.

Cons: Expensive for what you get
Pros: Whales, whales, and more whales
Ranking: 6 (least favorite)



Treehouse in Santa Cruz Mountains, Watsonville
 
Leo on the rope bridge leading to the TreeHouse
Zero Waste Lunch
 
The next day, we slowly made our way down the coast to our next destination. Scott and Leo rode their bikes along Highway One, while Max and I picked up Zizou from the kennel. Then, we took a hike down to a beach, had a picnic with the goodies purchased the night before, sipped a beer in Santa Cruz, and stopped for bulk groceries at New Leaf (happy to find pasta, bummed at having to argue to have my jar filled). We arrived and parked at our host’s house in the afternoon. From there, we took a four minute walk on a single track trail, at the end of which the path turned into a roped bridge: It is with delight that we discovered the Treehouse, a little cabin built off the ground amidst a set of redwoods. Leo instantly noticed the Jacuzzi-tub (which would make up for that of the lighthouse), Scott, the unsightly unit in construction nearby. Once inside, the place had everything you’d need: A kitchenette with basic utensils and a bathroom with a shower. After a hot tub soak, we made dinner, watched a VHS tape, and hugged the redwoods indoors :). I fell asleep dreaming of The Little House on the Prairie, wondering what it would be like to live here all year. The next morning, sun rays splashed the cabin as we stretched in bed to the sound of resident birds. We reluctantly left the cozy nest, but looked forward to our next glamping location.
 

Cons: Unsightly/unfinished unit nearby
Pros: Self contained – a “Little House in The Woods” experience
Ranking: 2

 

Yurt on Lake Cachuma, Santa Barbara
“Poppy” Yurt on Lake Cachuma

Our Zero Waste was put to the test in the hills of Santa Barbara. The day’s end caught up with us, as we realized that we needed a few extra groceries. We stopped in a couple of locations along the way, hoping to find a store with minimal bulk, baked goods or a counter to fill our jars, but only found upscale convenience stores with packaged goods. With a little bread left, a head of romaine lettuce, condiments, a lemon and a jar of soon-to-expire homemade salsa (both, a friend’s gift), we opted to make the best of what we had – with the help of one food item to carry the salsa. I grabbed what-seemed-to-be-a-paper-bag of Flamous falafel chips, read its “eco” claims, shook it and squeezed it as to detect a hidden interior plastic liner, but I didn’t get a clue of any: “Wow,  check this out!”, I said to Scott, “a brand finally found a way to package its chips without plastic”. With two teenage boys desperately hungry, I put my shopping ethics aside and reluctantly bought the bag. We reached Lake Cachuma before sunset. I quickly noticed that one side of the campground was sheltered from the wind, my online reservation was, of course, for the other. Nonetheless, each yurt was set on the water and offered amazing views of the surrounding hills. After unloading the car through strong gusts of wind, we sat down for a drink and an appetizer of chips and salsa. Shame on you, Flamous, for misleading the consumer with your sneaky plastic bag! Luckily, our evening took a turn for the better. Our campsite neighbor offered us a freshly caught trout. I must have sounded desperate, when I hurriedly accepted;)… I stuffed it with my girlfriend’s lemon, Scott prepared the barbecue, the sun sat and the wind died down, as predicted by the park’s ranger. A delicious meal of trout, salad and bread, comfortable beds, and, other than the raccoons digging into our compostables, a quiet night… I reflected on the fact that things always even out.

Cons: Yurts can be windy in late afternoon
Pros: Awesome views
Ranking: 4

 

Tepee in a KOA, Calico
 

 

Zizou guarding the Tepee entrance;)

 

Leo on a “silly bike”

Had we planned to vacation without our dog, I would have been able to reserve a much sexier location for a tepee. I hadn’t realized, this one would be set next to the highway. Nonetheless, this KOA was our youngest boy’s favorite spot. The activities offered (pool, archery, “silly bike” rentals, fusball and air hockey) were perfect for his age. The location was uncrowded, but what I liked most about it, was the desert being at our fingertips. During our two night stay, we kept busy and had a lovely time. We went to the nearby ghost town of Calico, the Rainbow Basin Natural Area past expanses of Joshua Trees, and a Drive-in movie theater. We bought our food from the local Safeway, the staff of which did not question my jars and bags. The tepee was clean, and despite the noisy location, we slept comfortably on the mattresses provided. As you can imagine, the night sky in the desert is unparalleled and offers unlimited entertainment. Simply put, this was an easy, leisurely stop.

Cons: Proximity to the Freeway
Pros: Proximity to the Desert
Ranking: 3 (Leo’s #1)

Oak Flat Fire Lookout, Sequoia National Forest
 
Oak Flat Fire Lookout

 

 
Salad of  foraged miner’s lettuce
Out house in the heavens

To access our next shelter, we had to swap cars: Our Prius for a 4×4 rental. After refilling jars and cloth bags at the super friendly Vallarta Supermarket in Bakersfield, a 45 minute drive took us on a dirt road through beautiful cattle land, then veered up a steep hill to a clearing bordered with boulders and miner’s lettuce ready to be picked. In the middle of all this beauty, we discovered our night’s accommodation: A fire lookout set on top of the world… Hard to believe that we had this whole place, in the middle of nowhere, all to ourselves! The amenities were rustic as we expected them to be, the outhouse cleaner than we would have imagined (and its setting so incredible, I could not stop taking pictures of it under different lights!). The ladder leading up to the cabin isn’t for the faint-at-heart (Zizou wouldn’t dare go up its steep see-through steps) but the trek up is well worth the effort. The 360 degree views from up there are simply breathtaking. Tears will fill your eyes with pure joy. Needless to say, I loved this place. It way exceeded our expectations.  I fell asleep that night, with dreams of updating the place, of scrapping and painting its window seals, of preserving it for future generations. I even wondered what it would be like to own and treasure one of these.

I read about fire lookouts a decade ago and had since longed to stay in one: An experience that I thought I’d be ready to cross off my bucket list after our stay. On the contrary, after visiting Oak Flat, I am ready to visit many more. 

Cons: Accessible by four wheel drive only 
Pros: Sleeping on top of the world
Ranking: 1 (my favorite)

 

Under the Stars, Arroyo Seco Campground, Greenfield
Max and Leo ready for bed

 

No matter how much you plan, sometimes things don’t work out as you’d expect. We had planned on staying at the Poso Guard Station that night, but a week before our departure date, the park cancelled our reservation for damage due to a recent storm. So we left on our trip, knowing that our last night’s accommodation would be a wild card. Countless propositions and considerations later, we ended up opting for a night under the stars. We would have preferred to sleep in the backcountry, but not finding any viable options along our way home, we stopped at a campground in Los Padres National Forest. We arrived at sundown, with a sign that read “campground full”, which it is to be expected on Easter weekend. A friendly chat with the hosts granted us access to a group campsite all to ourselves, near a sink (dishwashing reusables made easy). Fellow campers seemed to care little for either the environment or the facilities. Being grateful to have found a place to spend the night made it easy for us to ignore them. After dinner, the kids made their bed in the open back of our Prius, Scott and I laid on mattresses pads directly on the ground. We fell asleep staring at the stars, recollecting the joys of this wonderful trip and the backpacking trips planned for the summer ahead.

Cons: Careless campers (nasty bathrooms)
Pros: The hosts (accommodated us without reservation in a full campground)
Ranking: 5

As with camping, I found glamping to be such a great way to connect with nature.
Have you tried it? Do you have a site to share with us?

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