Camping Review | Arroyo Seco, CA (b)

Campground: Arroyo Seco
Date:March 18-21, 2016
Reservations Info:http://www.rockymountainrec.com/camp/padres/arroyoseco.htm

Campground Amenities
Bathrooms: Hot Water
Fire Pit: Yes, but very deep. Bring lots of kindling
BBQ: Yes
Picnic Table: Yes
Size of Campsite: Very large
How many tents can fit: 2-3 easily
Firewood Available: For sale, $7/bundle

Absurd Campsite Amenities
Proximity to parking: Very close
Nearest store: 20 miles
Place to hang hammock: At some sites
Showers: Yes
Electrical Outlets: No
Cell Service: No
Pay Phone: yes-ish (didn’t work)

Things To Do
Hiking: Excellent, very near, or drive to Pinnacles
Biking: Excellent
Swimming: Yes, river nearby
Beach: Yes, river nearby
Climbing trees: Some
Wildlife: Frogs galore. Lots of wildflowers
Inner Tubing: Yes

Watch Out For
Poison Oak: Oodles
Ticks: Almost certainly. Didn’t see any in March, but they are probably legion by May.
Snakes: probably
Racoons: No!
Bears: No

NotesNotes: Site 27 had lots of trees and not much sun… perfect in the summer, but a bit cold in the spring. Site 29 was at the corner and had more open space. This corner of the campground was great because it’s away from most sites; right next to the road, but there is so little traffic that it doesn’t matter much (might change in the summer when a lot of people are heading to the day-use area).

The fire rings are really deep, so they don’t burn well with a small fire. Bring a lot of wood.

Nice bathrooms with showers and warm water in the sinks for doing dishes. Bikes were great to have along; really nice fire trail for riding up the gorge. The other campers were very mello in the spring, though there were a lot of Christmas lights and some generators.

It’s faster to get there than Google Maps suggests; the road up from 101 is pretty fast when there is no traffic. About 25 minutes from Soledad. Could also drive through Carmel Valley, but it would add at least 45 minutes to the drive. No cell service. There is a pay phone, but it doesn’t work well.

Less than an hour to Pinnacles National Park for hiking.

Hiking / Biking up the gorge ride is a bit steep, but nice out and back to a bridge where you can access the river for a picnic. On the flat portion, we went out about 2 miles, which was beautiful and flat, but above the river. For kids, the ride to the bridge would probably be an all day event.

Kids highlights — Eliza: bike riding loops through camp, riding out through the gorge. Tessa: Beautiful wildflowers at the gorge and on the hike to the Pinnacles.

Campsite Review | Arroyo Seco, CA

Dates: March 18-20, 2016
Sites: 27-28

Notes: Site 27 had lots of trees and not much sun… perfect in the summer, but a bit cold in the spring. Site 29 was at the corner and had more open space. This corner of the campground was great because it’s away from most sites; right next to the road, but there is so little traffic that it doesn’t matter much (might change in the summer when a lot of people are heading to the day-use area).

The fire rings are really deep, so they don’t burn well with a small fire. Bring a lot of wood.

Nice bathrooms with showers and warm water in the sinks for doing dishes. Bikes were great to have along; really nice fire trail for riding up the gorge. The other campers were very mello in the spring, though there were a lot of Christmas lights and some generators.

It’s faster to get there than Google Maps suggests; the road up from 101 is pretty fast when there is no traffic. About 25 minutes from Soledad. Could also drive through Carmel Valley, but it would add at least 45 minutes to the drive. No cell service. There is a pay phone, but it doesn’t work well.

Less than an hour to Pinnacles National Park for hiking.

Hiking / Biking up the gorge ride is a bit steep, but nice out and back to a bridge where you can access the river for a picnic. On the flat portion, we went out about 2 miles, which was beautiful and flat, but above the river. For kids, the ride to the bridge would probably be an all day event.

Kids highlights — Eliza: bike riding loops through camp, riding out through the gorge. Tessa: Beautiful wildflowers at the gorge and on the hike to the Pinnacles.

Holiday Card Revolution

This is more of a rant than a craft, really. Have you ever looked at the holiday card sites like Shutterfly and their ilk?

Pi Day Card

They’ve got a million different holiday cards with different levels of customization, etc. What I don’t get is why they don’t just let you design whatever the hell you want on the site, press a button, and have 30 of them delivered. It’s not like they have any cost savings for only having a few designs. Costco is the worst: they have the cheapest prices, but their designs are just heinous. And it matters, because I’m not organized enough to get cards out for any of those millions of holidays they’re peddling. So what do I do?

Read about it on BonBonBreak

Shed under the stilt house

As much as I’d like to have the stilt house floating in the air above the back yard, I really can’t afford the dead space in a yard so small. Every square foot has to pull it’s weight, really. Plus, there’s this ugly-ass metal shed in the yard that is pretty much an eyesore.

So, I’m tucking a little shed under the stilt house. In one iteration, I envisioned enclosing in the whole bottom story of the stilt house, but I’m glad I didn’t. Eliza even pointed out that it wouldn’t feel like a tree house if it was all filled in underneath. Hence, the shed is tucked in, filling less than half the area underneath, which hopefully keeps up the illusion of the house floating in air.

When you get right down to it, we’re talking about a 3′ x 7′ box. One thing I wanted, though, was a lot of doors… like 3 walls worth. I hate black holes where shit just lives because it’s too much trouble to drag it out and toss it, or worse, to bother getting it out to use it. I had a storage unit like that once… way in the back was an inflatable boat without a motor that I didn’t think I was going to use when I packed the storage. Then someone offered me a 9hp motor that would have made it a crab-catching machine… except I couldn’t actually get the boat without unloading an entire 1015′ storage unit, so the crabs remained uneaten. Bummer (n.b. that same inflatable is living in the metal shed… I’ve moved it 3 times, I’ve stored it for 12 years. I’ve never once put it in the water. This has got to stop). But back to the shed… lots of doors, natch.

I decided I wanted this done, so I started looking for a handyman to build it instead of having to listen to myself dither. I found one, JR’s Handyman service in El Cerrito. He was great. He came by and we talked for an hour or so… at the end of that, I actually felt like I should just do it. He gave me great ideas about how to do it, and we agreed that I’d prep the site, frame it in, and then he’d do the rest. But by the time I was building it, I didn’t feel like I needed him for any of it… still, those couple of hours were worth the money because he gave me a lot of confidence that I was doing stuff right.

My plan had been to just set some concrete piers on the ground, but JR convinced me to sink some posts in the ground. I even had some nice scraps of the same 66’s that support the stilt house, so that’s all good. He gave me a great suggestion for setting up a frame off the main house supports to hold the little posts while I poured concrete. At the end of the day, it worked mostly awesome, though one of them ended up 1/4″ off…

wpid-20151003_174025.jpg

Once the posts were set, I framed in the base with pressure treated. I made a lot of compromises, such as using 24 as floor supports and putting the joists really close to the ground. I know they’ll rot sooner, but I can’t afford 4 more inches to use 26 and giving them good clearance. We’ll see how it goes.

framed floor

Once the floor was framed in, I put in one special stud. Because I used 24 for the base, JR suggested that I tie a stud from the house framing above into the middle of the 24 to keep it from sagging. I then decked it with 3/4″ plywood. I splurged and got the smooth, sanded stuff. It’s not really necessary, but when I’m sliding boxes around in the shed, it’ll be nice to not have splinters tearing into things.

shed floor

I put a header on the bottom of the floor joists for the house to tie the studs into the floor. I used the laser level to make sure it was lined up perfectly with the bottom of the frame. Then I put a sill on top of the shed floor. I made some mistakes here since I hadn’t worked out all the details of the wall framing. The upshot was that I later had to cut the header and sill to avoid some pieces that would be in the way of the doors.

Half of the shed will have shelves, so I put in a stud aligned with the front special stud. This will support the shelves. I then used the laser level to pencil in the shelves. I wanted the bottom one to have enough clearance for the table saw rails (so I can store it without removing the rails), so that was a design consideration. I used 2x4s and Simpson connectors to make the shelf brackets. This wastes some space, but it’s easy. I finally got the shelves in, though after a few hiccups of cutting out spaces where I didn’t need them. There is a 40″ span on the shelf that I know will sag, but I’m going to put a front piece of 1″ steel L… someday, when I get around to it… hopefully before I load the thing up!

shelves installed

Finally, sheathed it in T1-11… cheap and cheerful!

shed with back wall

Next up, doors…

Simple garden survey

Trying to restructure a small yard is harder than it seems like it should be. One of the biggest challenges is how hard it is to look away from the stuff that’s already there. We actually hired a designer and she did an amazing job at drawing in plants where a concrete path currently runs, or a patio in the middle of a camellia bush. Like I say, it shouldn’t be that hard to mentally rip out the camellia bush that’s falling over anyway, but somehow it is. Sadly, the designer, while good at seeing what could be there, had an annoying habit of putting plants that sounded great on paper, but turned out to be not what we wanted. Some used too much water, some were impossible to actually find in retail nurseries, and some were ugly. We tried to implement her design in the front yard and quickly gave up. Maybe if we had $20K to hand to someone and have it done it a week, it would have been OK, but we don’t, so we’ve ended up revisiting most everything.

I’ve been making a lot of use of Sketchup for this purpose. It’s pretty amazing for letting you drop a planter box here, a fence there and see how it might look. Surprisingly lifelike, as it happens.

One trick, though, is the need to get the base layout in. I did it the first time with some casual measuring off a the plan that aforementioned designer gave us, but eventually realized that some accuracy was lost in the translation, so I started from scratch.

Legal disclaimer: I’m not a professional surveyor. I’m not even an amateur surveyor. There is no reason to suspect that I know what I’m talking about. In point of absolute fact, I don’t. But this is kind of working for me. Oh yeah, some other challenges: I don’t have a theodolite with a laser range finder. In fact, I only have a 25′ tape measure. And I mostly have to do it by myself because it is more trouble to ask Suzanne to help when I’m muttering geometry to myself.

I started by drawing a rough sketch with no scale, just so I had something to write measurements on.

As the first step to getting it to scale, I chose is a baseline for my map. In the past. I’d been working from the back wall, which was near where I was building the tree house. The yard has 3 fenced edges, 2 of which are in advanced stages of falling over. That makes for a bad baseline. I chose the house, because if it falls over I won’t give a damn about the backyard anymore. I very carefully crawled along the foundation of the house and measured the distance from each point to every other point.

Next, I needed to get some points out in the yard. In some cases, like the path next to the house, I simply measured from the nearest measured point on the house itself. I didn’t worry about the angle much, because the distances were short and the sine of a small angle is a small number. For distances farther away, I needed some well known points out in the yard.

I started by choosing a corner of a concrete block in the path. I took measurements from 3 points along the house as far apart as I could. Then I took measurements from any solid object I could find to any other two points that were also solid. I ended up with a complete mess of lines and numbers. Then it was time to sit down at Sketchup.

What I really wish Sketchup had is a circular guide line With my measurement system, I end up with distances, but not the angle. Getting the angle would take a fancy theodolite or something that I don’t have. Instead, I went into Sketchup and drew circles around the points I had measured from. Where 3 circles overlap, that yields a point. In general, they seem pretty accurate; the “points” were really triangles, mostly 1-2 inches across, which is an estimate of the accuracy of the technique.

Backyard Layout v6

With this whole grid of points laid out, I was ready to start designing.

Tree house fire pole

I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about building a tree house without a tree, and tried to think of cool stuff to make it awesome. I considered a zip-line to make a dramatic exit, but my yard just isn’t right for one. One thing that’s always been in my head is a fire pole.

fire pole test slide

After a lot of looking, it turns out that there just isn’t a good turnkey solution. The play-set people all sell some variant on this:

Which is nice and powder coated, but also pretty locked in to a specific deck height that they use for little play structures. They just seemed wheezy. My brother suggested I look on Amazon for stripper poles (which they do, in fact, sell), and I read a great description of using a flagpole for exactly the same application. All of these poles are sectional, though, so they’ll be wiggly. If I went that route, I’d probably fill it with sand to stabilize it.

I recognize, though, that my daughter will probably climb it almost as much as she slides down. And the last thing I want to worry about it the pole breaking. I finally settled on a chain link fence post. They are galvanized steel, so any slivers would be a bit of a bummer, but if it gets slid enough, it could polish up OK. The challenge was finding one 13′ long. I finally located a supplier who would cut a chunk off a 20′ section for me, but I had to get there during business hours.

Just on a lark, I swung in to Alco metals, one of my favorite spots. This is a serious industrial sales facility who still let you bring your kids in to paw through their scrap heap. I found a section of 2 1/2″ stainless steel tubing with a 1/16″ wall thickness. This was overkill in a big way, but it was so beautiful. I went to the sales counter and we talked a bit and she ended up selling me 13.5′ for $96. This was an deal made everyone’s day.pole on car

I got it home and realized I had some serious work to do. There was a brick step leftover from the original patio. I assumed this would be a simple matter to bust out, but it turned out the bricks were in 6″ of concrete. I levered it up a bit at a time and whacked it with the sledge (n.b., buy the damn sledge hammer. I tried for a while to do this with a pick and breaker bar, and that was just dumb)… eventually got it into small enough pieces.breaking step

Next I spent a bunch of time clamping it in place to find the right spacing off the platform. The description on this site is about right. Close enough so the littlest can reach it, so it feels a little tight for a grown up. It ended up about 14″ away.wpid-20141228_162339.jpg

Dug about 18″ down with a post-hole digger and put a couple of inches of gravel in the bottom. I screwed a board up at the eves and used a Simpson bracket for chain link fences to secure it. The bracket was about 1/8″ too small, but I had a sledge hammer, so we reached an agreement.    hole for pole

Mixed up some concrete and filled the hole. Really, I don’t think this bad boy is going anywhere any time soon.wpid-20141228_162734.jpg

At the end, it turned out exactly like I’d envisioned. It even looked a lot like the drawing I’d done in sketchup. And the pole is really fun. It’s only a 5′ drop, but it feels like a long slide. For grown ups, it’s a tight fit between the pole and the platform, but it’s a cinch to swing yourself way out so you go down facing the house. tree house with firepole

Let there be light

So the stilt house is done, It warms my heart that the first thing the girls wanted for it was a garbage can. And while we were at the store, they asked for a dustpan, too. I splurged and got them the set with a little whisk broom. We’ll see how often it gets used.

wpid-20141220_170240.jpgSince it’s just in time for the winter solstice, if we’re going to use this thing, it needs light. in fact, Eliza put a good lantern on her Christmas list. But seriously, we can do better. Especially since they have ropes of LEDs for $20 at Costco. I bought a set and a big-ass battery. I think this one mostly gets used for electric lawnmowers. 12V, 18 aH.

I tested the lights and they draw 1 amp at full brightness, and it drops with color, etc. Should get several days out of a charge. I’ll eventually get solar for it. I thought I had a little solar panel that could trickle charge it, but it got cracked in the move. I figure that a pretty small one should keep it up since they’ll probably only run the lights every few days.

redLEDwpid-20141220_170309.jpgwpid-20141220_170311.jpg

The effect is pretty damn cool.Though when the kids are in high school, I’m going to be a little worried that there really is a rave going on out there.

Stilt house gets done

stilt house mostly doneThe stilt house has really come together over the last couple of weeks, and today it wrapped up (but too late in the evening for good pictures). Billy, our contractor, made this thing fly up in no time. It made me really glad I didn’t try it myself, watching how quickly he’d just offhandedly cut pieces to fit where I would have had to spend hours measuring twice and all that. Plus, his fit better. He also could do things like frame in windows and throw on a roof without having to spend half a day on the internet reading about how to do it.

Hiring him meant the difference between 1st and 4th grade kids excited about their tree house and middle school kids wondering why their crazy dad was still trying to build them one. It’s interesting to note that the first thing the girls did when it was declared “finished” was to sweep and mop.sanding deck

The house feels seriously sturdy: the door fits tightly, the windows go up and down. The deck could hold a bunch of kids jumping up and down (nb: must test this).

It’s also funny that, while I declared it done, the girls insisted that it wasn’t finished until the doorknob was installed. Finally done at 20:00. Took this as an opportunity to finally get a new lock for our front door (we didn’t actually have a key to the deadbolt since we bought the house a year and a half ago), and put the old front door knob on the tree house.

There are still a few things left to do… Pain, stain the deck, add a solar lighting system. And, of course, the fire pole. Still working on finding this one!

Stilt house final stretch

The stilt house in the back yard is almost done.

house half done

Billy came down for 2 days before Stormageddon or whatever the pansies in this neck of the woods are calling a little rain. They actually closed school! But I digress… Billy got the walls framed in and the roof started in one day, then the next day he finished the last two walls,  installed the door (which involved cutting a foot or so off the bottom of a standard door) and then, just before the storm closed in, threw on the roof panels and the first layer of tar paper.

A word to the wise when building a shed

So you want to build a shed or a play house or a tree house or something like that. Good on ya! I read a couple of books on the subject as I was getting this shed house up and going. One thing they all say is “check local building codes” which sounds like the sort of cover-your-ass boilerplate that the publisher made them put in. But there’s a lot of wisdom in it because if you know the rules, and follow them, you could end up saving hassles down the road.

The stilt house is going up in a small backyard. And it’s a giant structure in that small backyard. There are neighbors just over the fence, and we’re all nice and cosy… their trees drop leaves (hell, one of their ivy plants came over the fence and killed the one tree in my yard which is why I built this thing on stilts in the first place). This thing is a part of the neighborhood, like it or not. We talked to some of the neighbors about it in general terms, but even I was a bit surprised at how big it looks there in the yard.

And here is where reading the regulations comes in. Our town actually has a very nice write up of the municipal code concerning accessory buildings, in plain text (and in Comic Sans, so you know it’s user friendly, natch). So we’ve got a definition as “A detached, subordinate building, the use of which is clearly incidental to that of the main building or to the use of the land.” Check.

accessory buildings

More important is stuff like “If… will exceed 120 square feet in floor area, a Building Permit is required; if 120 square feet or less, exempt.” Hmm. My original shed house  would have been pushing this limit. Another critical one is the roof height and offset. The walls must be either less than 6 inches from the property line, or more than 3 feet. Since I have a 6″ cinderblock wall in my yard, I can’t really go to the narrow limit, even if I cared to, so I made sure it was 3′ away from the line. I don’t actually know where my property line is, but I assumed it was a few inches from the inside of the fence and called that good. Then there’s the roof height: 12′ from the foundation. Again, the shed house would have pushed over this, which is the thing that killed that plan more than anything. There are some other regulations about doors and windows as a % of wall size and in relation to the property line, but they are all simple to understand.

Once the poles were in, we went looking for where the roof and floor should go. Basically, we started at a roof of 11’11” and worked down from there. The poles were set so as to be far enough from the edge. The windows won’t be too big, and the floor layout is 64 sqft. All good.

Back to the knowing all these regulations, and following them: when the building inspector showed up at the house the day after we started construction, it was nice to know the rules were on our side. My wife was running out the door, but she waved him into the backyard and told him to measure away. When I called him later to follow up, he had some serious advice about covering up the pressure treated posts to keep the kids from getting splinters, but as far as the house itself, we were good to go.

I’m sure this will blend in as time goes on; in the meantime, the kids like it looming in their field of view. I look forward to them looming over me as I garden or bbq in the yard.