Our #Vanlife experiment led us to Cape Lookout State Park in a rented VW EuroVan from Road Trip Oregon. From there we explored the other capes in this northern section of the coast: Cape Meares and Cape Kiwanda.
It was a fantastic two-day trip. The highlight was a five-mile hike to the tip of Cape Lookout, which juts out into the Pacific, offering great views for miles.
When we weren’t exploring the capes, we shucked fresh oysters from Netarts Bay, hiked along mostly empty beaches and had roaring fires at night. April proved to be a great time to visit.
We’ve been talking A LOT about making this big move, hitting the road to live the Van Life dream… like so many others are doing right now. But in what? We’ve started seriously exploring our options.
Free Bird: A Van that Drives Like a Car
We first spotted this custom rig at the recent RV show, and it left a lasting impression. It’s a Nissan NV200 that a Seattle dealership custom fit, inspired by the owner’s love of the classic VW camper vans. So, it’s a passion project for brothers, Kurt and Craig Campbell, who own Campbell Nissan. You can tell there’s a lot of thought and care that went into creating this vehicle.
Johnny jumped behind the wheel — “because, let’s face it, I’ll be doing most of the driving” — and he was instantly impressed by its solid feel on the road. It drives like a car, and gets incredible gas mileage. Before we take the leap, though, there are some issues to consider.
Space is tight: The table breaks down and becomes the roomy, very comfy bed, but where does ALL our stuff go? There are some interior storage bins and the option for a rocket box on top, but this van almost feels more like a weekender than a viable housing alternative.
But wait! There’s also the option to add on a fairly large awning. AND panels can be added to that setup, effectively creating another “room.” Very cool.
Cooking challenge: The kitchen setup is out the back end, and it includes a one-burner setup heated by butane. Not as efficient as propane, and lots of waste because those cartridges are not refillable. So, you’d probably need to get that portable Coleman stove, or bring the trusty Jet Boil into the equation.
Powering up: Unlike the Westy, you can’t pull into an RV spot and plug in to power up. The battery runs the “fridge” (which is a small drawer, so you’d need an additional cooler, too), and a couple USB outlets, but there are no plugs to power up a laptop or other gadgets.
No riders: This is a two-person vehicle, period.
Lots of Thoughtful Touches
There are nice special features, including:
Screens on windows
Custom-made privacy curtains
A ceiling fan
The table has cup holders
It’s compact; we could park this in our teeny garage
It’s easy to convert it to a cargo van; everything slides out!
The Price is RIGHT
Most of the camper vans we’ve looked at come with pretty hefty prices, including the spectacular Sprinter outfitted by Airstream that rings up at a cool $217,000. The Free Bird is around $35,000. We’re still shopping. As much as we’d love to DIY an empty, high roof, that’s not gonna happen, so this nifty ride is at the top of the list right now.
There are more than 30 spas in this teeny town north of Palm Springs, including one started by famous gangster, Al Capone. After talking with an extremely helpful person at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, I zeroed in on what I think is the very best hot spring spa… in an RV park! Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort is the only place in the area that doesn’t add chlorine to its pools, which are heated by three underground wells. (It’s grandfathered in before the health department required the addition of the chemical.) The pools at Sam’s are drained daily, so they’re crystal clear and don’t have that funky smell you can sometimes run into at hot springs.
The vibe is totally Old School, with bare-bones dressing rooms and you’ll need to BYOT (bring your own towels). But that’s OK because it’s pretty cheap. Admission on weekdays is just $14, or deeply discounted if you’re staying in the motel or at the RV park.
Timing Was Just Right
On a weekday morning in December, we practically had the whole place to ourselves and the soak did the trick of warming us right up. I love the time-honored tradition of hopping back and forth between the hot pools and the cold plunge. I also really enjoyed the friendly energy of Sam’s. There was a group of about 10 friends sitting in a nearby pool catching up on news and trading gossip. So very Euro!
I’ve been to a whole lot of hot springs over the years and Sam’s is right up there with Nakusp in British Columbia, and Glenwood Springs in Colorado. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the area for a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, or to unwind after an action-packed weekend at Coachella in April.
Rocks fall, steam rises, a glacier moves as the mountain rumbles. To climb Mount St. Helens is to climb a living, breathing mountain.
It’s hard not to feel moved by the experience.
John got the chance to summit St. Helens after scoring a permit in late August. While it’s not a technical climb, the five-mile route to the summit is strenuous, gaining 4,500 vertical feet. The last three miles gain more than 3,000 feet, traveling through a sketchy boulder field and what is called “the vertical beach” — a slide-y, sandy trudge to the rim.
Once you’re on top, you don’t want to leave. It’s fascinating to look inside the rim at a mountain that first blew up in 1980, then reformed its lava dome with eruptions from 2004 to 2008.
It’s time to start about planning for this very special experience this summer. Permits for the busy summer climbing…
A day at the beach is great any time of year, but it feels particularly great in December.
San Diego might be the best place in Southern California for a beach visit. The SkiZer was lucky enough to spend a couple of days exploring San Diego’s gorgeous beach locations and came away mighty impressed.
The low-angle winter solstice sun painted beach communities in golden light, temperatures were in the 70s, the sand enticing and warm.
Black’s Beach near Torrey Pines.
The foot ferry from downtown San Diego goes to Coronado.
The Hotel del Coronado is the centerpiece of the pristine beach there.
La Jolla Shores is a wide strand, a great place for a walk.
Visitors check out the seals and sea lions near La Jolla Cove.
The recreation path on Mission Beach attracts a steady stream of traffic.
A surfer leaves the waves of San Onofre in north San…