December 29, 2009

DoHo Christmas

We just got back from a couple days of beach camping at Doheny State Beach. It was really a commuter-camp because Andy was in a basketball tournament in Rancho Cucamonga so we were commuting the 120 mile roundtrip between the campsite and the games. We were set for another night at camp, but with his Wednesday game starting at 9:00 AM, we decided to come home after the campfire on Tuesday night.

My folks got a room at the Doubletree Resort -- walking distance from the campsite. They just stayed the one night, but they joined us for some hot soup around a cold campfire. I had bought four bundles of firewood at Smart & Final and it just smoldered and never flamed. It was a good thing Sherry knitted my Dad a new hat to keep his melon warm on a cold night at the beach.

This cool photo is from the CSULB geology department. It does a good job of illustrating the things I wanted to write about in this post. At the far left (east) are some condos on the bluff over the campground. Many of those folks have their WiFi unsecured, and it was no problem finding an available network to stream tunes and update the FaceBook page. On the far right (west), is the harbor and there are many fine restaurants within walking distance of the campground (which is located directly under the letters Dohe in the photo). The large building inside the wye adjacent to San Juan Creek is the Doubletree Hotel where my folks stayed.

When the tide was out, Sherry and I walked out onto the tidelands visible directly under the word Beach in the photo. This area is the size of several football fields, and it is all cobbles with lots of sea creatures eking out an existence in this intertidal zone.  The Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks department has an interesting Virtual Tidepool where you can learn about some of the cool things we saw there. All of the living things are protected, but non-living items may be collected. Along with a few shells, Sherry found several vertebra from a small animal and a large rib bone from some large aquatic creature.

During our final commute, we decided to bring the dogs back to join us for the day. Digger (in front of Andy's feet) had no problem napping through the new adventure. Scooby was ever vigilant for other dogs and Scooby-snacks. This photo was taken in the green park area, directly under the word State. During the summer, this area is hopping with bike and surfboard rentals. Andy isn't crazy about surfing here because the waves break too close to shore near the campground, and those cobbles we were walking on are weapons of mass destruction during high surf.

As we were breaking camp, I heard one of the Rangers referring to Doheny as DoHo, which I thought might catch on with the family. I wonder if it is DoHo or Dough Ho'?

December 26, 2009

Time to Start Planning

It is that time of year when everyone makes their lists: Best Movies of the Year; Best Sports Plays; Best whatever. Around here our list is where we want to go camping next year. Since we usually can only make reservations six months in advance, the end of the year gets a little fuzzy.

Winter is always a little rough because of the basketball schedule, but at the Frosh level, there are never any weekend games, so it is actually easier this year. In January, Sherry has a ladies’ retreat, so that weekend is a guys’ trip, and we’re looking at either Joshua Tree National Park or maybe another try at Ocotillo Wells.

We’ve got a couple beach trips planned for the rest of the winter. In February, we’ll be in San Mateo Campground, inland from San Onofre State Beach. Our reservations include day use at any State Beach, so we’ll spend daylight hours on the coast and head inland for the night.

March is at San Elijo State Beach which is right on the coast. It is a nice place to camp because some of the sites are on the bluffs and some on the sand – whatever floats your boat. There is also a fantastic taco stand in the campground, so it is easy to let someone else cook any or every meal.

Our long trip this year is at Sequoia National Park in April with lots of friends. We’re hoping the snows clear early so we can explore Crystal Cave, but even if it is still under snow, we’ll be camped next to the Kaweah River in the Sierra Foothills.

May is pretty busy. We might start with a boondock in Death Valley with friends, but the busy month may prevent that trip. We're also planning a trip to the apple orchards at Oak Glen. We’ve never been there before, but have heard from friends it is a great getaway. Even if the apples are gone, there are shops to stroll and waterslides at the campground lake.

Summer brings us back to the mountains. We’re planning a June weekend at Big Bear Lake, staying at Serrano Campground. This wonderful retreat got Sherry’s highest rating ever, and it is the yardstick she uses for every other campground. It is in a Ponderosa Forest, close to where they filmed the Bonanza TV show, and there is a terrific trail to the Discovery Center (and gourmet coffee).

July is where it starts to get fuzzy because we can’t make reservations too far out in the year. Where Sherry uses Serrano as her yardstick, I use Dogwood. The forest there is more reminiscent of the Sierras than the Ponderosa, and the little town of Blue Jay is close by.

In the late summer of August or September, we could head to the beach or to the mountains of Idyllwild. I think Sherry and Andy enjoy the beach more, and working at the Black Mountain Fire Lookout, I get a couple days a month at the top of the forest. It is tough getting beach reservations in the summer, so we could end up camping in the pines and a couple day trips to the beach.

In October, we want to try something new and head out to Mitchell Caverns in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. The SRA is surrounded by the Mojave National Preserve, which has been brought before Congress for creation of the Mojave Trails National Monument.

November is a Death Valley boondock, and we might slip another beach trip into November. Doheney is fun for camping, but the surfing isn’t the greatest. San Elijo is close to Legoland, so it might be a trip with our Godson.

December is always a tough month, but we usually try to sneak in a Doheney Beach trip during the holidays. It gives us time to plan our 2011 calendar.

December 19, 2009

Tin Mine Trio

A camping trip with friends this weekend didn't work out, so we enjoyed a day hike in Tin Mine Canyon. This was Andy's first trip to the canyon, and while he had a slow start, he warmed up pretty quickly.

The recent rainfall has greened up the hillsides, and the creek was starting to run. Hopefully, it will see a lot more rain in the coming weeks.

This last photo I took from Skyline, above the canyon. The crisp winter air made for some great visibility, and in this view looking North, you get a good idea of what a great location we live in for camping fun. The Angeles National Forest is just an hour North of us; San Bernardino National Forest is just two hours to the Northeast; Cleveland National Forest is minutes away to the South; Chino Hills State Park is a few minutes to the West; and the beach is just two hours to the Southwest.

December 3, 2009

Sticker Shock

We had a tradition with The Caboose that we put a sticker on the back showing everywhere we hauled it for camping.

We continued that tradition with La Rana, and went a step further by removing some of the factory stickers and replacing them with these custom stickers. These were all made to order for us by Seth at Vinyl Disorder.

These stickers are almost always a conversation starter at campgrounds and even gas stations. They remind me of the window decal passes of the early days of our National Parks, and the passage stickers that were attached to old steamer trunks. We're going to be adding Ocotillo Wells, Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Park this spring.

December 1, 2009

Knott Camping

Jake hates when I do this, but this post has absolutely nothing to do with camping. On Sunday we headed over to Knott's Berry Farm with Sherry's Dad, Art. We had a terrific afternoon without any crowds. We did Ghostrider and the Silver Bullet roller coasters, but one of the most fun is Sidewinder. This is really a mash-up of the classic Tilt-a-Whirl and a rollercoaster. For $15 they sell you a DVD with video taken from an in-car camera. We got one of Sherry and Art, and another with me and the Boy. I did my own mash-up, combining the two videos into two minutes of funny faces (Check out Andy at 1:08!). Enjoy.

November 26, 2009

Insomnia and the Tin Mine

Blame it on insomnia, but I spent the better part of Wednesday night researching the history of Tin Mine Canyon. It seems it was all a wonderful con game, and while it has nothing to do with camping, it does cover our new favorite day hike destination.

It starts in September of 1891. Colonel E. N. Robinson, the General Manager of the mines was called to London to answer to the investors over the productivity of the mines. He told the investors that the rumors they had been hearing were most assuredly untrue. The mines were not employing 250 men, but only 80, and the claims of daily yields of $2,000 or more were ridiculous. I'm sure the investors must have thought they were being swindled because they had yet to recover anything from the venture.

Despite his claims to the contrary, the source of the rumors was in fact, Robinson, who three months earlier took a load of tin pigs (ingots) to the South Riverside (Corona) train depot so that President Benjamin Harrison could pose with it and endorse the endeavor in the local papers. After the President's photo, the pigs were hauled around to other locations for publicity photos to fuel the rumors of productivity.

When the scam began to unravel, Robinson and his conspirator James Crossman, blamed the controversy on the investors not wanting to work with anyone but "Cornishmen." The investors had sent their own managers to the site to see what was going on. Robinson and Crossman were accused of building illusions with shoddy mills without any possibility of enough water to run them. They said they were being shut down by "English capitalists who would rather waste the sweetness in the profound depths..." than to have anyone but an Englishman make a profit. Like a good con-man, they blamed the victim and then said that while they were harvesting tin, they had found some gold and were looking for local, American investors for their next venture.

I don't know if they ever got a pound of tin from the area, but the new managers recovered their money by selling the water rights to the "agriculturists in the vicinity." The most notable of these was Frank Miller, a Civil Engineer in Riverside who built an Inland Empire which included the Mission Inn.

In my late night research, I was looking for active claims in the area, and finding none, annotated the photo of the canyon. Only three of Robinson's 28 shafts are in this canyon. Blue is the creek, red is the main trail, and pink is the side trails. It is a half-mile walk on the dirt road to the trailhead, and another half-mile to trail's end. Now maybe I can get some sleep.

November 22, 2009

Doheney Weekend

We finally got out for more than a day trip. We spent two nights at Doheny State Beach for what we thought was going to be a surfing trip, but a shore break and two-foot surf kept Andy in the sleeping bag texting the weekend away.

Our buddy Mike came out on Saturday for barbecue and some cold ones. Mike was Andy's surfing teacher and we thought they'd get out again, but the conditions were much better for tri-tip, roasted vegetables, escalloped potatoes and adult beverages.

The weather was pretty cold for Southern California standards. It was in the 40's overnight and never got above the mid-sixties during the day. While Andy tended to stay within a car-charger's length of his cellphone, Sherry and I had wonderful walks along the beach, coffee on the jetty and cozy campfires. This was a great trip, even without the surfing, and we're looking forward to a return trip in December.

November 15, 2009

Tin Mine Canyon

The family has been sick since Halloween, so it was great to get out for an early morning hike up Tin Mine Canyon. Andrew spent the night at a buddy's house, so it was just Sherry and I stretching our legs before breakfast.

This canyon is so representative of the Southern California Natural History. We climbed through three distinct habitats. The only downside of the early morning walk was that we really needed a small towel for the morning dew at the rest stops. It is going to be really pretty back there when we finally get some rains and we'll have four or five creek crossings along the hike.

We spent much more time exploring this trip. The first tin mine we encountered had been sealed shut with rocks. The second shaft was a deep horizontal shaft with a sharp right turn after about fifty feet. You can walk up to the portal, but the Forest Service has sealed it shut with heavy iron. The third shaft was way up on the side of a cliff, and like a fool, I risked life and limb climbing up the mine tailings and hugging the side of the cliff so I could get to the portal. Once I got out there, it was another deep horizontal tunnel protected by iron.

I'm hoping we won't tire of hiking in this canyon. It is only ten minutes from home, yet it feels like a million miles from work and the city.

November 11, 2009

Out of Service

Today we closed down the Black Mountain Fire Lookout for the season. It was quite the chore to bring everything down and secure the structure with metal shutters, but the real work is yet to come.

Sometime on the long, bumpy ride down the mountain, a ten-pound ABC fire extinguisher emptied inside my five-foot camper shell. What looks like a carton of eggs is actually a case of water. The inset photo is of my mostly-black drill. The gray upholstery of the shell interior has taken on a jaundiced look, but I'm happy to report that all of the Lookout stuff is cleaning off fairly well.

This is going to take a lot of time to clean up, which makes me wonder if a dry chemical extinguisher for the RV is really the best choice.

November 2, 2009

Death Valley Rendezvous

Andrew and I spent the weekend hanging out with the usual suspects out at Death Valley. This has turned into a twice-a-year rendezvous that is a lot of fun. We're sworn to secrecy on the exact location, but lets just say it is a stone's throw south and east of the park boundary. I forgot to bring a camera, so this old promotional shot and a photo from last Spring's trip will have to do until some of the other campers share their photos.

The natural history of the area is quite stark. Usually the only living things we see are ravens and black flies, but game cameras around our boondock have spotted foxes too so I have to assume there are rodents around. I haven't seen any burrows so they must use the rubble of the  cliffs for shelter. These canyons are remarkable formations of volcanic ash which was inundated by sea water eons ago. Opals can be found in some of the strata. On the top, is desert pavement with lots of volcanic rock and desert rose crystals.

As always, we had a terrific time, and the hospitality of our hosts was remarkable. Thanks guys! And thanks to Jake for sending on this photo of our campsite. We're the little RV on the right.

October 24, 2009

Campfires and Tin Mines

Last night we celebrated Andy's 15th birthday with a potluck in the backyard. Andy invited a bunch of his friends and they spent most of the night at the campfire in the back yard. It was quite the sight to see two dozen teenagers packed around the fire ring.

For too many of them it was the first time they've ever been to a campfire. It sure is great being able to share that with them in our own backyard. Check out the view of the city lights too.

Saturday morning, Sherry and I went for a hike up Tin Mine Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest, about ten minutes from our house. During the 1800's there were several working tin mines in this canyon, and at least one shaft can be viewed from the trail.

The canyon bottom is shaded with Live Oaks and Sycamores, and there are lots of sages and buckwheat growing along the sides. The tin ore is clearly visible and there are some remnants of the history for those who look. We're working up to a hike up to Skyline and Oak Flat on the same trailhead.

October 21, 2009

Cool Reading

Not much to do with camping, but most of us outdoorsy-types appreciate the venerable USGS topographical maps. They've been publishing an interesting history of the maps in one of the obscure journals I read (ARCNews). They have from 1884-1980 posted online. The next chapter should be posted after the print edition comes out after New Years, so save the link and check back later.

This historic photo shows an early USGS topographer taking measurements while his assistant records the information on a field sketch. Imagine mapping our entire nation before GPS, lasers and four-wheel drive. Incredible.

October 12, 2009

Outdoor Stove

I've always admired the tinkerer. This guy built a camping stove out of a metal mailbox, some conduit and a rain gutter. I'm not sure how many fires it would take to finally destroy it, but you have to love the ingenuity. Check out his blog for homemade kayaks, trikes, campers, etc.

October 5, 2009


It is still months away, but I'm getting excited about the trip to Sequoia National Park for Spring Break. We'll be staying in the foothills below the big trees, but that will only be a base camp for our explorations. The logistics are a little more involved than the Zion trip, but we'll be bringing along several friends this time around. Sherry is hoping to see some bears, but I'd be happy to see some of these pika.

October 3, 2009


I've made a few modifications to the RV that I never posted, so it is time to bring the blog up to date. We decided to call our RV, La Rana, which is Spanish for The Frog. I took off the factory decals in the back and added a large version of this frog drawing as well as our destination stickers. There is a smaller version of La Rana on each side of the RV too. I'll be adding the text for La Rana as well.

We found it frustrating to use our XM radio during the Zion trip because the overhang of the cab frequently blocked the signal. Rather than attach it to the roof and try to figure out an elegant way to route the wiring, I mounted a bracket the the front grill and mounted it next to the hood latch. Hopefully, it won't get in the way of the mechanics. Most people won't even notice it.

Finally, I spent some time playing with the layout of Our Camping Blog. Let me know what you think.

October 2, 2009

TV or not TV, That is the Question

I'm not generally the kind who likes to watch TV on a camping trip, but during fire season, there are no campfires allowed, so once the sun goes down, it is easy to end up inside instead of at the fire ring.

We have a digital TV, DVD and antenna, but the location of the TV doesn't work well for viewing. In the drawing to the right, the Blue line is the factory installed TV. As you can see, forget about watching it from the single chair or the cab-half the dinette.

Andy likes that location well enough for playing video games, but everyone else gets a sore neck. One possibility is moving it to the green line, above the single chair and then putting a separate monitor for video games on the cab-over bed.

Another option is to get a set of those back-of-headrest monitors and mount them by the back bed and above the door. The selector switch already mounted in the cupboard allows each of two TVs to choose their source: Antenna, Cable or VCR/DVD.

The issue with the headrest monitors is that they're 12v so they can be powered by the interior lighting circuit, however the tuner and selector are 110v so they wouldn't work without shore power anyway. I could find a 12v DVD player and use it during boondocking.

At this point, I'm thinking I can put the existing TV above the chair, but reverse the mount so that it will pivot toward the cab-over bed. That way, there is only one TV on board, and if Andy is going to play video games, it can be pivoted toward his bed (the cabinet is too small for the existing TV). The only person who gets left out is whoever is sitting in the single chair, but a mirror mounted on the other wall could solve that problem. I'm going to need to ponder this for a while.

September 19, 2009

Air Tanker Base Tour

This morning I got a chance to tour several aircraft at the US Forest Service's Air Tanker Base in San Bernardino. They invited all of the fire lookout volunteers to come down and meet the pilots and see the equipment.

I went inside two converted submarine-hunters, and a helicopter, plus got to poke my head into a Single Engine Air Tanker (crop duster) and the radio tower.

It was great to meet some of the men and women we've heard on the radio and seen fly over the lookout towers. What an incredible experience. There is a full gallery here.

September 12, 2009

Surf's Up

Andy has wanted to graduate from boogie-boarding to surfing but we lacked instruction and equipment. Then I remembered my buddy Mike is a veteran surfer with several awards. Mike was happy to spend the day teaching Andy how to surf. We were joined by his daughter Chloe.

Andy was a natural, making it upright on his second try. Oceanside is a really nice beach to learn at because there are no rocks or stingrays and the waves break way off shore. That means shallow, warm water.

We could not have asked for a more patient instructor. I've posted a full gallery of our photos here.

September 7, 2009

Mountain Man Rendezvous

We finished up the Labor Day weekend with a couple days at Holcomb Valley with our friends Paul and Linda. Beyond the joys of catching up with some old friends, we got to explore a Mountain Man encampment with over a hundred folks camping with period equipment (albeit aided by some food safety devices a la Coleman Coolers).

Later in the day, we explored the valley on quads, and then on Sunday night, we went for a chilling adventure as we braved the cold mountain air to go on a quad ride under the moonlight. Paul has built a cross country trail marked only by small reflectors shaped like cat eyes, and the adventure is navigating across the valley using only these life size eyes attached to tree trunks every few hundred feet.

On Monday morning, the boys headed over to the rifle range for some testosterone-charged fun before a barbecue lunch and estrogen-laced shopping in Big Bear. What a great weekend. Check out the two-minute highlight reel.

September 6, 2009


I started the Labor Day weekend with a shift up at the Black Mountain Fire Lookout. While I didn't get any smokes, the weather is changing and we could get some thunderstorms. While moisture helps the existing fires, we get lots of new starts when lightning strikes the dry fuel. This thunderhead appeared in less than 15 minutes on Saturday, and within two hours, it covered the mountain.

Early this week, we lost one of our Lookouts to the Station Fire. The Vetter Mountain Lookout was destroyed after standing its post since 1935.

Finally, I wanted to thank the ground troops for their hard work in the fires. The pilots and the tankers get all the attention on the news, but it is these ground fighters that get the job done. Two of these brave firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice. 47-year-old Captain Tedmund "Ted" Hall, and 35-year-old firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, Los Angeles County firefighters were killed when their vehicle went over the side of the road while fighting the Station Fire.

September 3, 2009

Andy's Favorite Camping Video

August 29, 2009

End of Summer

Andy starts high school on Monday, plus it is my Mom's birthday -- two perfect reasons for a quick camping trip to the beach. We went to San Mateo for the night and got a site for $37 instead of the post-California economic-melt-down $67 they now charge for a hook-up site (no kidding).

The campground is very nice, but because it is on Camp Pendleton Marine Base, you can't leave the campground except for the mile-and-a-half hike to San Onofre State Beach. That means there is not much to do in camp except check out the other campers.

My Mom and I enjoyed catching up with a couple hours of campfire conversation. Andy forgot we were there and wore out his battery texting everyone else in his contact list.

Our camping receipt allowed us day access to Doheney and San Clemente State Beaches, so we tried to get into the surf, but the conditions were brutal with horrible rip tides. I got a cool souvenir from the trip; someone threw away this classic White Gas Lantern. It looks great hanging on my back shed.

August 22, 2009

Zion - The Promised Land

Zion National Park is truly one of the most magnificent places on Earth. As anyone who has seen this blog knows, we’re no stranger to camping and the outdoors, so when we say it is one of the most magnificent places on Earth, it must be.

We spent a week with a base camp at Zion Canyon, in the hottest month of the year, and it was perfect.

Each morning, we would complete an adventure before the heat sent us back to camp for a siesta. In the evening, we would venture out for another adventure before settling in for the night.

The towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs are like sandcastles in the expanse of the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts. The trails along the canyon walls were incredible, and every day we saw dozens of wild turkeys, deer, bats and once, a grey fox.

Traveling with a 14 year-old son is usually easier with a distraction, so we brought along Andy’s buddy Travis. He had his own adventures, as he had never eaten Spam and eggs, or even tamales.

One of our favorite adventures was taking our bikes on the park shuttle and then riding the Pa’rus Trail back down to camp. This two-mile trip was so much fun as we let gravity do most of the work during the cool evening air.

These few photos and short video fail to do this place any real justice. It truly is our favorite place, and one we will surely revisit time and again.