The Bay Area and Beyond

Moonbeam Farm:

On our last day near Crater Lake, we knew it would be our last time in Oregon for quite some time.  We set out on an idyllic day, heading south into California.  Overall, the drive was fairly easy and we landed at a Harvest Host called Moonbeam Farm where the proprietors grow different varieties of organic lavender and loofah.  

We learned quite a bit on the farm tour.  Did you know that loofah comes from a gourd that is also known as Chinese okra or elephant okra and several other names? 😲 It grows on a vine, and once it reaches maturity, it dries out within in a week and turns brown.  At that time, you can harvest them, shake out the seeds for replanting the following year, and peel off the outer shell.  Inside, there is still a film on the fibrous spongelike material you know as loofah, which gets washed away in a large, rotating drum and the washed sponges are then dried in the sun for your use in the shower, the kitchen, as a chew toy for your dog’s dental health, and more.  

It was a really neat experience learning all about the contrast between how they are processed at Moonbeam vs. other commercial operations.  The reason why the loofah sponges you find in the store are so different is because they are harvested earlier than they should be, chemicals such as lye or bleach are used to remove the outer layers and coloring, and they are cut to a specific shape and compressed, leaving them as the tough loofah you have come to expect.  Moonbeam Farm is one of the only heirloom loofah farmers west of the Mississippi, so pop by if you are heading up Highway 5 to see the process and feel the results for yourself. 

After learning all about their loofah operation, we received bouquets of lavender during the lavender fields tour, and learned even more about the varieties of lavender, why some are used for culinary purposes while others are used for perfume, the difference between lavender and lavendin, and why some naturally contain camphor chemical components and others don’t.  There are over 400 different varieties of lavender!  So, if you think it’s not for you, perhaps another variety might strike your fancy.  Much to my delight, I discovered there is a culinary variety of English Lavender used in savory dishes called Melissa, which is my namesake. 🥰 

I purchased some lip balm infused with lavender, Herbs de Provence for my spice collection, a loofah for the shower, and a few more for the kitchen from their country store on site.  Overall, I think you’d like this stay.  The only things you may want to be aware of are that they close their gates in the evening, and it looks like they are locked, but they are not.  Also, if you are running a generator, you will be asked to put it on a surface such as a plastic lid, likely because of their organic farming practices and the need to avoid unwanted chemicals being leached into the soil.  

And onward we went south to the Bay Area for a very quick visit.  Here are the highlights.

Anthony Chabot Regional Park:

I used to live in Oakland for nearly 15 years and it was our home together for 4 years, so we were familiar with the area and curious about what had changed and what had not.  By the time we got onto Highway 80, we were reminded of just how terrible the roads are in the Bay Area. 😬 And traveling around in Oakland and the surrounding areas, we saw very few places where they had made ANY improvements to the roads since we left back in 2015.  Sheesh.

I have biked all over the Bay Area, so I knew of a campground tucked away off of Redwood Road called Anthony Chabot Regional Park, near Castro Valley on a ridge between Lake Chabot and the San Leandro Reservoir.  After looking at our options, we decided to stay here because it was more conveniently located than our other options, much less expensive, and not a glorified parking lot.

Overall, we had a nice stay.  There is more space between camping spots, it’s really quiet, well maintained, and you have access to many hiking and biking trails.  The park is only 20 minutes from Castro valley, 30 minutes from downtown Oakland, and 40 minutes from San Ramon.  I took advantage of the convenient location by hiking around Lake Chabot and doing one of my favorite bike rides. 😍

There are, however, quite a few restrictions when you stay at Anthony Chabot.  The biggest pain for us was the park’s 10pm curfew…they lock the gate going into the campground at 10pm (really, not just pretending to like at Moonbeam Farm), so we were always stressed to get back in time when out visiting with friends.  The park doesn’t allow generators, E-bikes, or water balloons. 🤷🏻‍♀️ I can understand the generators being a possible fire hazard, but the other two seem more like a “someone ruined it for everyone else” sort of situation.  The other bummer is that their sewer systems are not up to par…our site’s tank dump site was blocked up as was the shared dump site, so we could not dump our gray or black tanks while we were there even though we paid for it. 😖. It’s a good thing we have gotten better at conserving water!

Visiting with old friends:

If you are one of our Bay Area friends and we did not visit with you, we are sorry. 🙁 We had four days and simply did not have enough time or money to stay long enough to see everyone.  I don’t even think we would be allowed to stay at the campground long enough to make that happen as length of stay is another one of the park’s restrictions. 😂 

One our first night, Matt and I went to Zachary’s Pizza to meet up with our friend Alec for dinner.  This place is a staple in Oakland.  If you like Chicago-style pizza, swing by one of their locations if you are in the area.  Alec is a long time friend and was also our wedding officiant, so it was great to catch up with him and have a low-key evening out upon our arrival.

The next day we met up with my former climbing partner and friend Craig for lunch at Xolo Taqueria and we all went for a stroll around Lake Merritt afterward.  Although they haven’t made many improvements to the roads, there have been several improvements to the areas around the lake, which have really uplifted the area, making it more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, and the health of the lake is better with their renewed connection to the estuary on the west side of the lake.  Afterward, we drove over to one of my favorite places called Market Hall Foods to peruse their delicious food offerings, and had a drink at what used to be called Barclays and is now the Golden Squirrel.  Thank you, Craig for a wonderfully relaxing day!  We had a lot of fun and were really glad to see you. 🤗

That night we headed to Telegraph Avenue for dinner with our old neighbor Peter and his partner Arpita.  Near Alcatraz and Telegraph you will find a handful of Eritrean restaurants to choose from.  Although the service was great and the food was delicious, we all had a bit of indigestion afterward… 😳. Nevertheless, we were happy to connect, albeit for a very short while due to that darn curfew at the park.  

The next day was our free day, so I chose to walk around Lake Chabot, which was about 10.5 miles round trip from our camp site.  Most of it is fairly flat, half of it is paved, and a small portion in the northeast section of the lake is for hikers only, so it was really quiet.  I enjoyed just how daring the birds are, which is unlike most places we have visited.  If you are a birder, you would love traveling around this lake.  They have geese, ducks, egrets, herons, perching birds and more.

Later that evening, we met up with one of Matt’s co-workers Rico for dinner in San Ramon at Bamboo Sushi, which ironically is one of our favorite sushi joints in Portland!  On the drive out we traveled over Crow Canyon and Norris Canyon Roads, both of which I used to bike on when living in the Bay.  It brought back happy memories from my bike racing days.  And Matt’s co-worker Rico is a sweetheart, whom I really enjoyed getting to know better as we closed down the restaurant. 😋 

The next day I met up with my friend Laura to do a bike ride called Zoo Loop that passed right by our campground.  The majority of the ride is on Skyline Blvd and Redwood Rd, which parallel each other in the East Bay hills, and you do in fact get to bike through the Oakland zoo entrance.  The weather was mild, the roads have aged and the climbs are just as hard as I remember, but the conversations with Laura were also just as lively as I remember.  I’m so glad I got to see her and go on a bike ride for old time’s sake. 💗 

That night we stayed local in Castro Valley and visited my former co-workers and dear friends from GU Energy Labs.  Emily and her husband Luther live there, made us dinner and invited Eric and Richard, who I hired way back in the day when I was in GU’s accounting and finance department.  It was so great to catch up with everyone, share stories, a meal, many hugs and loads of laughs.  I could not have asked for a better close to our time in the Bay Area. ❤️

Off we go to the Sierra mountains to stay for a brief respite with friends in Kirkwood.  Fingers crossed, the weather cooperates as we head through the mountain passes. 🤞

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