Rancho Oso and Lessons Learned along the Way

In an effort to stay out of the heat and use my Thousand Trails RV park membership to it’s fullest, I mapped my trip through southern California to include two high elevation stops: Idyllwild above Palm Springs, and Rancho Oso above Santa Barbara.  The drive from Idyllwild (blog post here) to Rancho Oso is approximately 230 miles with much of it on the beautiful coastal highway, 101.

I’ve learned some lessons about how I travel, one being that I average about 50 mph when I factor in stops for gas and breaks at rest areas.  I start to get nervous when the tank dips below the half way mark, and Yiska and I both enjoy stretching our legs with a little walk every so often.  Doing the math, I calculated the drive would take me about 5 hours.  A fairly easy day of travel.

Or so I thought…

Lesson two was hard earned.  I now know not to pull off the highway for gas unless I can see the station from the road.  About half way through the journey, I noticed it was time to top off and started looking for the next available gas station.  I soon spotted a blue sign with a picture of a gas pump.  As I came to the small four way stop at the end of the off ramp there were no buildings.

I’ll turn left towards the ocean.  There must be a beach town just out of sight. 

I quickly found myself on a narrow rural street with beautiful homes but no room to turn around.  As the road narrowed even more I wondered if it would dead end and decided to use one of the large, gated driveways to turn around. I pulled in, but soon realized I couldn’t swing wide enough and backing up put me in danger of hitting a truck parked on the side of the road.  I was also now blocking both lanes.  As I wiggled my way back and forth, I noticed a few cars had pulled up and were waiting to get by.

This isn’t happening!

Suddenly, I wanted to cry.  I fought back the tears.

You can’t start crying now!  Pull it together.

I walked over to the first car and a young man, no more than 17 or 18 years old, rolled his window down.  Well dressed and impeccably groomed, driving a high end sports car, he flashed me a kind smile and I wanted to vote for him for president.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I hope so.  Have you backed up a trailer before?”

“Once or twice.”

My heart sank, but running out of options, I decided to chance it.  We agreed he’d do the driving and I’d spot him.  Within a few minutes he had me turned around and held the door as I got in.

“Have a wonderful day, Ma’am.”

Flashing me that toothy, perfect grin one last time, he drove away.

I looked at my front seat.  With it’s half full coffee mug, bag of trail-mix, overflow of camping gear, and Yiska panting in my ear, he had to have wondered what the story is.  A middle aged woman traveling solo with a tiny trailer, blocking traffic on his small street among multi-million dollar coastal homes would make me a novelty, at best.  No one honked their horns as they passed this time, but somehow this made me feel worse.  Only my second big driving day, and I wanted to throw in the towel.

My inner self began another discussion.

Analytical me: Focus on what you’re doing well.  The rest will come with time.  It’s normal to have ‘bumps in the road.’  (Analytical me smiles at my pun.)

Emotional me: I feel fragile.  I want everything to be easy for a while.  I’m tired of hard. (Emotional me fights off the tears again.)

This inner dialog went on for a while until a wet nose nuzzling my ear interrupted and I watched for the next rest stop.  I parked between two large semi trucks, made a sandwich, and munched on it from one hand while walking Yiska with the other.  I could feel my mood lifting.



Later, my confidence was buoyed further as I drove the last few miles into the park along a narrow, winding, one-lane road with blind corners.  I backed my trailer into it’s site at Rancho Oso in one try.

Analytical me: See?

Emotional me smiled.


Rancho Oso is a working ranch that borders the Los Padres National Forest.  The next four days were spent exploring the ranch with my camera and walking the trails with Yiska.  Photographing animals is a favorite subject of mine, and the early morning light was beautiful as it crested the mountains and flooded the valley.  Lazy afternoons gave me time to edit my images and read.

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One morning I swung by the barn to ask about horseback riding and was told the group that was scheduled to go hadn’t shown up.  Ten minutes later I was in a saddle, my horse following a well worn path along the ridge of a mountain.  The young guide chatted with me as she rode ahead, telling me of her dream to become a vet and plans to move to Texas for college.  She told me about her relationship with her boyfriend, struggles with roommates, the support of her mom.  I shared my cancer story, the death of my husband, and my new adventure on the road.  With tears in both our eyes, we joked about how we’d normally hug at that moment, but it would be difficult to do while riding horses.  It reminded me of why I chose to do this in the first place.  Moments and connections like this.


Later, I watched a cattle herding demonstration with a border collie mix who stopped mid-way through the presentation to leave the pen and visit with Yiska.  The handler didn’t seem happy that his dog wasn’t minding but it made me smile.  The two dogs looked like long lost cousins saying hello.



On my last day I drove into Santa Barbara for a morning walk along the beach before returning to hitch up and be ready for the drive north.


Next stop, two nights at Turtle Beach Fish Camp.  A small RV park on the San Joaquin River.  I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the bumps in the road once more.


33 thoughts on “Rancho Oso and Lessons Learned along the Way

  1. Lori OConnor

    Wow! We really do have to meet. I did exactly what you did when I first learned to tow and I really enjoyed Rancho Oso and Idyllwild. Are you heading to the Pacific Northwest soon? >


  2. james norman

    Yes I learned a long time ago, unless you can see the sign from the road I do not exit. sometimes you have to travel several miles. Truck stops are a camper’s salvation and there are apps for your phone that can tell you what is at the next exit or where the next Flying J is located.


      1. james norman

        As you travel and post your experiences, consider attending an Escape Rally. Each year there are at least several held in various sections of the country and Canada. The yearly Escape Rally in Osoyoos, BC is quite a site with hundreds of Escapes returning to their homeland, reminds me of the salmon swimming upstream to return and spawn. There is normally another rally held in great Northwest, one in Texas, one in Niagara Falls and one in the midwest along the Mississippi River. Check out the dates and places and come join us.


  3. raviolikid

    I love your photos! And I love your stick-to-it-tiveness. Hold it together and cry later. And I love how there are always people to help when you need it. I was proud of getting myself out of a situation I got into a week or so ago. I was following a map they gave me to help find my campsite. It wasn’t a detailed map and there were no signs. I ended up having to BACK UP more than a quarter mile! I wouldn’t have been able to do that when I started out. So, good on you! Happy trails!


    1. Oh, wow, I can just imagine what it must have been like to back up more than a quarter mile! EEK. You’re good! It’s fun to share these ‘learning moments’ because then I hear from others that I’m not alone. Misery loves company. LOL Thanks, and happy trails to you too.


  4. Cathy

    Glad you made it. Your story is an inspiration to me. I haven’t ventured out of Southern CA. yet in my RV, but know I can do it when the time comes. Happy travels. I look forward to hearing about more of your adventures.


  5. I hear you on the towing! I sometimes haul my 3 horses and the idea of getting stuck unable to turn around haunts me every time! I can usually back up from most trouble unless I have an audience-then it is impossible.

    Just loving hearing about your adventures and now seeing your images, too!


  6. Cindy

    Sara,”Next Exit” a book that comes in real handy,when you are unfamiliar with the area. Saved us a few times! Safe travels! Cindy


    1. Thanks for the tip, Cindy. I’ll look it up. I could use some info on where to find the next good gas station. Some others have mentioned apps too. Going to do some research and make things easier for myself on that front.


  7. Dorothy Keller

    Yup we all have our moments the first, second – well let’s just say every year Rving. Our worst moment ever was when we got our tow dolly hung up on a pole at the Kroger gas station, we were blocking traffic at that super busy grocery store and my dog jumped out during the chaos and ran through the parking lot with me following – yelling and waving my arms at cars. We don’t use those kind of gas stations any more. We’ve learned to look for parking lots that are level entry (haha) and that also have an exit further down so we know how we are getting in and out.It is always a relief to park the rig for a week and just relax.
    I admire you so much for getting out there and doing it!! Awesomeness sister!


    1. Oh, no! I’m picturing your story and the chaos and stress. But, laughing ‘with’ you. You understand. It’s reassuring to know that everyone has the growing pains or learning moments. I definitely enjoy the time I spend parked! Thanks, Dorothy.


  8. Donna McFarland

    Soooo proud of you sister girl…You did it~ Just one MORE ~notch on the belt of experiences overcome!! What inspiration you truly are & ohhh, the lesson’s you’re teaching all us scaredy cats!!! Warmest XOXOXO’s to you!


    1. Look at this – two comments for the price of one. You must have wondered where the first comment went. I have it set to approve comments before posting so that’s why it didn’t show up right away. Thank you for the lovely words. They mean a lot! XOX


  9. Donna McFarland

    Soooo proud of you sister girl…You did it once again!! What inspiration you truly are & ohhh, the lesson’s you’re teaching us all! Really, really hope to meet you one day as you’re such a ~hero!!


  10. Cinandjules (NY)

    You’ll master it in no time! YIska’s nuzzle is reassurance…..they know!
    How relaxing and soothing a horseback ride can be….not to mention exchanging life’s stories.


  11. Kelly Alden

    So glad to hear that you DID IT! Life’s first leg of the adventure oh as been good. Help is always around the corner, or in your case, around the other side of Sarandipity! You are strong and brave… And if it all went perfectly, you wouldn’t feel the growing pains or get to experience the goodness of strangers. Hugs to you! Kelly


  12. Edie Daley

    Please keep writing such honest posts. Sharing the tough times is so helpful to me. I’m just beginning, and I need to feel less incompetent and vulnerable! I have a 10′ trailer! Nothing like a challenge! Love read about and SEE your experiences. Thanks.


  13. Jaydeen Angel

    First of all, LOVE LOVE LOVE everything about you. Years ago, I took my 1981 13′ Burro on a camping trip with my 2 kids. Let me start by saying, “what campground doesn’t loop around?”. Well the one we entered. The very narrow road went downhill towards the lake and ended. So, here I am at the last campsite, looking at the campers in that site with nowhere to go. I ended up having to unhitch the trailer, move their picnic table so that I could turn my truck around, then physically swivel my trailer around and hitch it back up and proceed back up the hill. That is when I was so thankful that I have a very small trailer. Still have it. I know those feelings that you are experiencing, but you are so brave with an amazing attitude. Happy Trails to You!


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