December 31, 2008

Menu Evolution

After dozens of weekend trips, our menu has evolved into the perfect fit for our family. We leave on Friday, after school and early hooky from work, catch dinner on the road, and stop at a local grocery store after setting up the Caboose.

We bring Friday's dessert from the market and groceries for the weekend. Saturday morning is breakfast burritos; lunch is local cuisine; and dinner is fajitas. Sunday breakfast is designed for easy cleanup: cereal and/or pastries, fruit and coffee. Sunday lunch is also zero-cleanup with cold cuts, cheese and fruit. Sunday dinner is back home.

We only cook two real meals during the trip, which gives us time to enjoy the relaxation of camping. The breakfast burritos use a pack of sausage links, half a pack of southern-style hash browns, eight eggs, shredded cheese and tortillas. Dinner is the other half of the potatoes cooked with a small can of salsa, and butcher's prepared fajitas. A can of ranch beans with a can of corn mixed in rounds out the meal.

December 27, 2008

Prado Views

Our friends from the Death Valley trip are camping this weekend at Prado Regional Park, just across the river from our house. Of course we had to stop by for a visit, and it proved to be worthwhile. The clear winter skies made for some great views, including this one across the lake at San Antonio Peak, where the snow level is still down to 4,000 feet.

December 18, 2008

Too Damn Cold

We canceled our beach front trip to Doheny this weekend. This arctic storm has washed all the pollutants from the streets into the surf and the water is unhealthy for the next week or so. Because it is an arctic storm, the snow level dropped below 3,000 feet to turn my sagebrush covered worksite into this snowy scene. Brrrr.

November 18, 2008

Freeway Fire

We had a terrific trip down to South Carlsbad, however some of our plans changed because of the big Freeway Fire near our home. My parents had come down to stay Saturday night, but turned around when they learned that two of my aunts were being evacuated. The mandatory evacuations extended to my folk's neighborhood, but ultimately none of them suffered any losses.

Andy brought his buddy Orlando with us, and the two of them had a great time rolling around in the cold waves amongst the surfers and dolphins. Sherry's coworker Jessie and his family were in the site next to us, so we couldn't complain about the neighbors (except for the rowdy Girl Scout Troop across the way).

November 11, 2008

Moonrise on the Berry

I spent Veteran's Day working a full day up at the Lookout. The weather was gorgeous, and the clouds made an incredible sunset.

This photo was taken on the drive down the mountain. It is looking away from the sunset, and at the moon rising over Strawberry Peak. The colors in the sunset reminded me of the Northern Lights.

November 8, 2008

The Lookout Awards

Today was the end of season barbecue and awards for the lookout volunteers. I made out pretty well with an award for "First Smoke" (spotting a fire), best photo, best newsletter article, and the "Gold Star Award" for volunteerism beyond the call (painting, repairing plumbing and electrical, etc.). I also won a raffle for a VIP tour inside the Arrowhead Tunnel.

I've only got a couple shifts left at the tower this year. Unless the weather pattern changes, we'll be closing the lookout down for the winter on December 1st. Last year we opened on Memorial Day, so it could be a long six months without standing watch in my timeshare treehouse.

November 6, 2008

Best Laid Plans

It seems like we've canceled more reservations than we've made this week. A family friend had a couple sites on the bluffs at Carlsbad Beach the same weekend we were going to San Clemente. His brother can't make the trip so we're taking their site for the beach and friendship. Seems like a fair trade.

October 30, 2008

The Bug is Back

The camping bug is definitely back. We've skipped a couple months due to some medical issues, but now it is really time to get back out there.

We kept the November trip to San Clemente and the December trip to Doheney on the calendar, but we canceled the January trip to San Elijo and February return trip to San Clemente.

Sherry is going to a concert with her girl friends in January, so I'll take Andy and a friend or two out to the desert to play.

In February we're going to take a five day trip to Big Sur, about a half-hour from Monterey Bay in the central coast of California. We're staying in the Fernwood Resort campground, inside a grove of Redwood trees.

We'll use the "resort" as a base camp and explore nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur, Andrew Molera, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks, plus Pfeiffer Beach.

The State Parks says the area features "redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows - plus open meadows. Wildlife includes black-tail deer, gray squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and birds, such as water ouzels and belted kingfishers." Looks like a great extended trip.

October 21, 2008

Smell the Surf?

It is time to get that pine cone smell out of the Caboose and start looking forward to the smell of the ocean. We have beach sites reserved for the next four months. In order, we're going to San Clemente, Doheny, San Elijo and San Clemente again. We have the same site reserved for both San Clemente trips.

Thanks to Google Maps, I can illustrate the attractiveness of the San Clemente site (click for a bigger view). The restrooms and showers are just a short stroll from the campsite. There are no campers across from us, only the Lifeguard Headquarters, which closes at dusk. There is a nice bench on the ocean side of the HQ, and you can look off the bluffs and watch the dolphins playing in the waves at sunset.

You can see from this photo from a passing plane, the bluffs mean that there is a bit of a hike to the beach access, but the cliffs keep the passing train noise to a minimum. The best views are from the campsite directly south of ours, but it is pretty cramped compared to our site. We're really looking forward to this trip.

October 13, 2008

Red Flag Day

I worked the morning shift up at the Lookout today. It was a Red Flag day because of the fire conditions. That meant we are on the highest alert for fires. When I got to the tower it was just 35 degrees with 30 mph winds and 50 mph gusts. We had a couple fires early on, but the big fire was off the forest, down in the city of San Bernardino. The fire burned along the freeway forcing motorists to abandon their cars and flee on foot. So far it has burned several structures including a public storage facility and the back wall of a motel. The Press Enterprise has the best coverage.

October 11, 2008

Death Valley Adventure

We've had a dry patch as far as camping goes, so why not go really dry with a camping trip to Death Valley? Andrew and I just got back from three days boondocking in this beautiful canyon just east of Death Valley.

Our friends Jake and Vickie have been camping twice a year in the same desolate canyon with a bunch of family and friends. They've invited us every year for as long as I can remember, and this year, Andy and I were finally able to take them up on their offer.

This unnamed, and secret canyon, is solitude at its finest. That really means campers have to be self-sufficient, which is one of the reasons these folks always camp together. We heard many different stories of mishaps and we saw one major misstep on our way in.

One of the big motor-homes got stuck in the almost dry creek bed on the way up the canyon. We spent a couple hours discussing strategy, and several more hours digging them out. Andy sure earned his supper with all the hard digging he did on this rescue.

We went exploring along an old railroad right-of-way with metal detectors, and the treasure of the day was found by Andrew. This is an 1899 Liberty Nickel. In that era, a day's wages were about $1.25, so with inflation, this is worth about six bucks. Remarkably, that is about twice the value of the coin on today's collector market. Still, the experience was a blast and the coin will be a keepsake.

The following morning, Jake took us for a hike to the bluffs above our secret canyon. We explored the natural desert pavement, and then Jake showed us these incredibly odd circles. This row of circles extends for miles in either direction. No one knows for sure why they are here, but theories run from UFOs to Native American purposes. In my humble opinion, it is in the character of man to draw lines in the sand. If there are no timbers for a boundary line, stand your ground and pull the rocks up to build a sentinel. I'm guessing this was a boundary negotiated by two native cultures.

Our last morning, the gang went to a box canyon and set up an impromptu shooting range. Most of the bunch are shooting enthusiasts, so there was lots of action in the canyon. Andy got the chance to dial in the scope on his birthday rifle; shoot a WWI sniper rifle; fire Jake's Mini-14; and Mike's .50 caliber pistol.

We did some exploring on our own on the way home and checked out this sun-bleached hopper.

This was an incredible trip, with so much more than I've documented here. We are so incredibly thankful to Jake, Vickie and all our new friends from the canyon. Thanks guys!

September 28, 2008

Kite Aerial Photography

There is a guy named Dave, who recently posted this photo he took of the Morton Peak Lookout using a kite mounted camera.

Looking at Dave's album, it looks like it'd be a lot of fun to make our own version of Google Earth for our favorite camping locations.

Charles C. Benton, Professor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, has created a terrific website on Kite Aerial Photography. I might have to try some of this out someday.

September 18, 2008

By Special Request

By special request, this photo shows the luxury accommodations of the Lookout Cab:
  • The photo is taken in the northwest corner, near the head of the twin bed.
  • The door would be just off to the left in the northeast corner.
  • The stove doesn't work for anything but storage so the microwave is the only cooking appliance in the cab.
  • There is an under-counter refrigerator between the sink and the director's chair.
  • The sink drains but you have to haul up your own fresh water.
  • The radios are in the southwest corner on the right of the photo.
  • The bed and the stools are on glass insulators for lightning strikes.
  • The ceiling is low so I drag my knuckles across the boards whenever I stretch my back.
  • We're the only lookout in the San Bernardino Forest with a phone, but I've only used it once so far.
As you can see, the place is utilitarian, but the joy comes from the time spent in the "Timeshare Treehouse."

September 9, 2008

Bad Feng Shui

We had to cancel our camping trip this month due to some business travel, so the only trip to the Mountain this month was spending the night in the Tower again this past weekend. I really like doing an afternoon shift, relaxing overnight, and then wrapping things up with a morning shift.

I also like to putter around, so this time around, I removed an abandoned water heater from under the sink. There hasn't been running water in the tower for over a decade and so the water heater was just wasting cupboard space. Now there is plenty of room to store the bird seed out of sight. Of course it is probably bad feng shui to have a house without water, but the drain still works.

August 31, 2008

My Storm-Chasing Mom

When I asked for some time off work to take my Mom to the Lookout on her birthday, my boss said, "You're doing what for her birthday?" What she didn't know about my Mom is that she LOVES to do things like that. She goes on storm-chasing vacations where they have in-car Doppler radar to chase tornadoes. All my life she has sought out the dirt roads and adventures, and I have no doubt that seeing the Tower was a perfect birthday gift for her.

We were pretty excited when the Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning before we headed up the mountain, but unfortunately, we had clear skies during the whole trip. That made for a great evening of watching the city lights six-thousand feet below us. There was also a lot of time to catch up on family gossip before we set up camp.

I was up with the sun and started puttering around the Tower. Our new picnic table at the Tower was salvaged from somewhere else and came with a bunch of tagging on it. I had picked up a gallon of paint from the "oops-bin" at Lowe's and gave it three coats of pistachio green before going in-service for my shift.

One of the great views from the Tower is looking toward Mount San Jacinto in the distance. The flat topped peak in the foreground is a family favorite, as it shares our name: Harrison Mountain.

August 3, 2008

Strawberry Overnight

I usually just work my volunteer shifts in the Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout Tower and go home, but this weekend I spent the night in the tower. This is the view from my bed inside the tower. Pretty cool, huh? This is looking out over San Bernardino, Riverside, Corona and Santiago Peak. From the tower I can also see Hesperia, Victorville, Palmdale, Lancaster, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and points west. Due to the curvature of the Earth, the view is limited to 106 miles, but on a really clear day you can see Mt. Whitney, 150 miles away, but only because it is tall enough to poke out above the curved horizon. When it isn't smoggy, you can see the Channel Islands. In all there is a 340 degree panorama (damn trees) covering a huge chunk of Southern California.

July 20, 2008

Wave Running at Lake Silverwood

We just got back from an adrenalin-filled weekend at Lake Silverwood with our friends Robert, Jana and Wendy. They brought a couple of Wave Runners so we were hardly ever in the campsite.

The lake is on the desert side of the San Bernardino mountains, and is VERY popular with the locals. There is no beach access at the campsite, so it is a drive to the day use parking, and then a quarter-mile hike from the car to the beach. If it weren't for the long walk and dirty bathrooms, this would get a higher rating than just two tents.

The water and companionship was outstanding. We had a lot of fun and once Andrew was oriented to the Wave Runners, it was pretty amazing to be hanging on to my thirteen-year-old son as we flew across the lake at 60 MPH.

We saw a heavily modified pop-up put into service as an Ice Cream truck. They did a huge business selling ice cream during the day and taking orders for ice and firewood deliveries at night.

July 5, 2008

Summer Sausages

With the Independence Day barbecue officially over, I'm looking at the leftovers and noticing the absence of any Hebrew National Hot Dogs, it must be the best hot dog around.

According to all the hot dog ratings, it is. This survey rated the best dogs: 3) Ball Park Angus Beef Franks, 2)Nathan's Kosher Premium Beef Franks, and 1)Hebrew National Reduced Fat. Mmmm.

June 21, 2008

Put the Green in Green Valley

Our trip to Green Valley Lake went really green when Sherry and Andrew got food poisoning on the first night. They had eaten lunch at our local fast food joint named after a kid's toy, and by night fall Andrew was toast. Sherry followed, and Saturday morning we drove down the road, leaving all of our gear behind. After getting them all set up at home, I ventured back up the hill for some exploration before retrieving the gear.

I was going to go up to Keller Peak Lookout, but the road was closed due to a homicide investigation. I shot over to the North Shore campground. Once around the park and I knew I never wanted to camp there.

Back at the house, it is 105 degrees at 5:00 tonight. I'll be spending my evening watching the stars from the pool. Andrew is feeling better, but Sherry is still a wreck.

PS: A HUGE thank you to Don Fiscus who did a drive-by on the campsite before we ever got there so I would know if site 36 had burned in the Slide Fire (it hadn't, but our other favorites did). He also left half a cord of fire wood at the site for us. Incredible! Thanks, Don.

June 17, 2008

`Round the Chuckbox

My new favorite blog is `Round the Chuckbox. The publisher, Steven Karoly, has been cooking professionally for almost four decades. His blog is filled with incredible camping recipes, many for a dutch oven.

Spend an hour or two clicking on the labels like BBQ, Bread Pudding, Pizza, and Stew. There is an amazing amount of experience packed into the blog. The links are valuable too. He has a lot of great tips hidden in his pages. One that caught my eye was this windscreen made out of old license plates. I guess it helps that I have several dozen license plates getting dusty in my shed.

June 11, 2008

It's the Rockies, And a Lot More

We just got back from a great trip to Denver. This wasn't a camping trip. It was a business trip for Sherry and I, but we brought Andy along and made it a family weekend too. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has some of the best dioramas and exhibits we've seen, but our family favorite was this Ninja Squirrel!

In looking through our albums, it seems obvious we are attracted to statues of bears. This one of a sleeping bear was terrific. It captured our feelings after touring Golden, Colorado and sampling the free beer at the Coors Factory tour.

Colorado is a beautiful place. This final photo was taken from Buffalo Bill's grave site on top of Lookout mountain (Click for a larger view). It really shows the character of the place. The city in the foreground is Golden; the big factory is the Coors Brewery; and Denver is on the horizon.

May 26, 2008

Frostbitten Strawberries

The cold, stormy weather canceled our camping plans for Memorial Day weekend, but I still spent a couple days working at the Strawberry Lookout.

We got a couple inches of snow on Friday, and we couldn't see past the guardrail. That gave us plenty of time to finish the In-Tower Training, but we really couldn't look for any smoke.

It was like sitting in a 15' square room with white walls and no windows. Well, kind of. The more I thought about it, the more I came to think of it as a time-share cabin on a mountain top. I worked with other volunteers on Friday, but I had the tower to myself on Monday. In between visits with the public, I was able to get a lot of reading and homework done.

Of course I had to go for the obligatory, geeky pose in the tower. I promise I won't do that again. This isn't about the uniform, or the ego. This is about public service in something other than my usual role as a paper-pushing bureaucrat. That, and getting away from it all for a few hours every month.

May 22, 2008

Freaky Weather

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the start of Summer -- Wrong! This altered newspaper photo was taken this morning, not too far from Dogwood. We were supposed to be camping there this weekend, but the forecast is for freezing temperatures, snow and rain. That was too much for us, so we wussed out and decided to cancel the trip.

So far, the weather continues to surprise: hundred-degree temps last weekend, and now snow, rain and two tornadoes touched ground near here (one of them knocked over a train!).

I'm still planning on working a couple shifts at the Lookout this weekend, so I'll be packing my tire chains, life vest, lightning rod and an Old Testament.

May 17, 2008

Almost Opening Day

Today was a work day to get the Strawberry Peak Lookout ready to go for the season. It was a great day to be on the peak because it was 101 degrees at home but 20 degrees cooler at the tower. Tony (the Tower Leader) took a photo of the crew that showed up for the work party.

I forgot my own camera, so I'm using a photo from 2005 to illustrate the rest of this post. Some things have changed since then. The microwave dishes below the southeast corner of the cab are gone. The tower on the left of the photo has been rebuilt a few yards away so the old tower is only half as tall as the lookout now.

Up until just a week ago, there was a phone line that went from the cab to a transformer shack, but a lumber truck nailed that cable so we have to use a cell phone to order pizzas now.

April 30, 2008

NOT Brokeback Mountain

Sure Twinkie-on-a-Stick sounds like a scene from Brokeback Mountain, but this post is about campfire cooking.

I was checking out some recipes over at the Pop-Up Portal and was stopped dead in my tracks by a post about campfire-roasted Twinkies. I wasn't impressed by the deep fried Twinkies at the County Fair, but the idea of a warm sponge cake with marshmallowie cream filling sounds pretty good. Maybe with some chocolate or raspberry syrup for the full diabetic coma. We'll give it a shot on the next trip.

April 27, 2008

Hey You! Lookout!

This weekend I finished the classroom portion of my Fire Lookout training. I'll complete eight hours of in-tower training and then I'll be ready to fly solo as a Fire Lookout Host at Strawberry Peak.

According to their website, "Majestic views, solitude, quiet, heroic vigilance—the seven fire lookouts of the San Bernardino National Forest capture a romantic part of California’s past. In the 1970s, when new fire spotting technology made them obsolete, they fell into disrepair. Today, through the help of the National Forest Association, the lookouts once again serve the forest. More than 300 Fire Lookout Hosts give more than 9,000 hours each year from May through October to educate visitors about the history of the lookouts, the ecology of the forest, spot fires, and keep the lookouts a vibrant part of the forest."

While the towers aren't staffed at night, the views, as you might imagine, are incredible. This is the view towards our house from Strawberry Peak. As a Host, I'll be able to spend the night in the lookout, though solo, since only trained Hosts can stay. The public can rent Morton Peak lookout for an overnight stay.

April 20, 2008

Serrano Spring

We celebrated our first year with the Caboose with a trip to Serrano on the North Shore of Big Bear lake. We had a full moon and lows in the twenties, but as cold as it was, the only snow in our site could've barely filled the campfire ring.

Sherry loves having a full hook up, and we took full advantage of the opportunity to display our colorful porch lights. These were also helpful during the late night walks to the bathroom.

It seems that many of our camping photos look alike, so I was playing around with the long exposure settings on the camera, and came up with some different shots. The full moon was a four-second exposure, then the lights plus Sherry by the fire were each two second exposures. Having said all our shots look alike, we still had to have the cliché photo of the three of us at the campfire (two-second exposure).