December 29, 2010

San Elijo is the Choice

Boy meets Dog

In the last post, I made a comment about a sad dog story. For those keeping score, here is the story so far: Andy brought home a stray for a few days, we found the owner and then Andy asked for a dog for Christmas.

Tired Puppy
We went looking at the local shelters and were chosen by Shasta, a seven-month old shepherd-rottie mix. She is fixed, with all of her shots, and has an awesome temperament. She was actually born at the shelter in May, adopted out in September but returned to the shelter by the previous owner for whatever reason.

Since she isn't potty trained yet we took her with us on our annual between-the-holidays beach trip. We had a full hook-up at San Elijo State Beach, which is our favorite beach. It is kind of funny that Elijo is Spanish for "Choice." Here is why San Elijo is our choice:

San Elijo State Beach

That building on the left is the best damn taco joint on the planet (Bull Taco: shark tacos for lunch). That short little RV, five spaces from the showers is our campsite. The beach is awesome for surfing and beach-combing. On this trip, Andy rescued a slightly damaged surfboard from the dumpster! The Cedros District in Solana Beach is a great place to spend the afternoon. Plus, there is a nice upscale market a short walk away. The only downside to this place is the drainage in the rain. The whole campground is on a gentle slope from the bluffs on the north end, to the sand on the south end. During a storm, the camp road becomes a culvert and those spots on the south are a mud bog. During the winter, I would definitely aim for the bluffs.

December 21, 2010

Waxing Poetic

Maybe it is the rain. Maybe it is the sad dog story we just went through. Either way, I stumbled upon a hundred-year-old book, recently translated into English. Nature Stories will be tucked away in a cubby of La Rana for campfire reading. Jules Renard describes a donkey as "a rabbit who's grown up" and a butterfly as a "love-letter, folded in two, looking for a flowery address." Sappy, I know, but in the right setting, it beats reading the AAA maps in the glove box.

December 11, 2010

'Tis the Season

We're in the middle of December and it was nearly 80 degrees today. Even so, I spent the morning up at Snow Valley helping out with plans for their "Ski with a Naturalist" programs. While that kind of sounds like naked skiing, it is actually a guided nature walk on skis. I was invited up to help scout out the journey and identify some of the natural history that could be included in the program. Since I don't ski, this was a ski lift to the top and a hike back down the mountain.

Last weekend we hosted the annual Messick Family Reunion at our house. It was a great success, with more uncharacteristic weather for December. Even so, the backyard fire ring was a favorite destination during the party.

With just two weeks until Christmas, I'm running out of time to vacuum out the Yosemite dirt from La Rana before we start packing up for the bluffs at San Elijo. This is my favorite beach destination: full hookup, gourmet food cooked by somebody else, and the cool little town of Solano Beach nearby.

November 15, 2010

Yosemite in Autumn

We got back last night after spending the long holiday weekend in Yosemite. This short video shows the fun we had, but doesn't talk about the RV battery going bad. It wouldn't hold a charge, so the heater was out of the question, which made twenty-degree nights a little brisk. We spent the evenings in Curry and Yosemite Lodges, warming ourselves by their fireplaces. We had brought lots of bedding, so once we got under the covers, everything was fine.

In the video, we spoke of Andy's twelve-hour nap and Sherry sleeping on the drive up. Let's just say next time we'll buy the non-drowsy Dramamine or skip it all together. With the exception of the battery, La Rana performed perfectly. Unfortunately, I became completely caffeinated for the long drive home and couldn't sleep last night, nor search for royalty-free music to accompany the video.

Several folks have asked for more on the Winchester House. Unfortunately, they don't allow cameras inside, but here is a good commercial video on the WMH.

November 8, 2010

Death Valley Day Trip

Sherry, Ed and Man-Child in Death Valley

Snapping down the 38
The Death Valley Gang was camping out this weekend, but the Fire Lookout's end-of-season barbecue was on Saturday, so we could only get out for a Sunday visit. Andy always looks forward to some time on the firing line, and he got a chance to break in a new 38 Special. He shot Marsha's new pink-pearl handled Beretta, a couple 357's, and a cowboy-style wheel gun. As usual, he was a crack shot. Sherry got out on the range too and enjoyed the competition.

Andy starts reloading as Jake steps up to the firing line.

Sherry looking for dates!
After washing the lead off our hands, Andy stayed back in camp to visit, while Sherry and I went with some of the group to the China Ranch Oasis and Date Farm. The archeological history of this place goes back to Pre-Columbian times, but the recent history is that a Chinese man named either Quon Sing or Ah Foo came to this canyon after many years of work in the Death Valley borax mines. He developed the water, planted fruits and vegetables, and raised meat for the local mining camps. It became known as Chinaman's Ranch. But, sometime in 1900, a man named Morrison appeared, and, as the story goes, he ran the Chinese farmer off at gun point and claimed the Ranch for his own. Tough times in a tough place, but we had a blast.

November 4, 2010

On the Scent

As we get ready for our trip into bear country, I found this video taken by a hunter standing in a tree. It just needs the theme from Jaws in the background. Da-Dum. Da-Da-Da-Dum...

October 23, 2010

Switching Gears

Well it looks like we've made a quick transition to Winter in California. Around here, they say we have two seasons, Green and Brown. We're getting ready to put the shutters up on the Lookout tower, and I just ordered tire chains for La Rana.

I worried a bit about the chains. I have duallies in the back, so does a chain go on both tires? Just one? I found the folks at to be really helpful and they've collected all the laws about tire chains here. It seems Yosemite has even tougher chain laws with fines up to $5,000!! Since we're gearing up for a winter trip to Yosemite National Park, I'm glad they had given me the heads up.

I went with the Dual-Triple chains, with cams and spring tensioners. They got here very quickly and I'm very impressed with the quality. I'll be buying a couple duffel bags for these because each side weighs about 26 pounds and I'd rather slug each set separately than one bag that is almost sixty pounds.

The CHP has some tips on winter driving that makes a great checklist for our preparations. I'll be going down that list, plus shelling out $350 for a new windshield since a tiny chip turned into a full crack after the last trip.

October 4, 2010

Guys' Trip to the Rancho

Patrick, Kyle and Andy
at the Tin Mine portal.
Sherry was off on a crafting retreat with her friends, plus we missed last month's trip due to the playoffs, so that made this weekend the perfect opportunity for a guy's trip with Andy and his two buds, Patrick and Kyle.

We started off the morning with a hike to Tin Mine Canyon. It was quite the episode of Wild Kingdom, with Patrick finding the remains of a scorpion and then Andy and Kyle spotting a couple Tarantula Hawks.

Mini-golf at Rancho Jurupa
 We then headed out for Rancho Jururpa, just twenty minutes from the house. This is a Riverside County park, along the banks of the Santa Ana River on the historic farm and ranch lands of Riverside's pioneers.

There are over two -hundred acres of cottonwoods, two lakes and two campgrounds. The older campground, Lakeview, has only 12 sites with hookups, but it is under giant sycamores and cottonwoods so there is plenty of shade. The newer campground, Cottonwood, lacks full size trees, but is otherwise a country-club of a campground with laser-level concrete pads, full hook-up including cable and internet access, laundry and even a miniature golf course that is more putting green than windmills. There is a water play area that young kids go crazy over. This is clearly the best county campground I've ever seen.

September 19, 2010

Skipped the Beach

We had reservations for a trip to Doheny Beach this weekend, but we cancelled and went to the ball game instead. Of course it would have to be a really important ball game to make us skip camping, and this one was. For a few years now, we've had season tickets to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes Minor League Baseball. For only the second time in their history have they won their division in the California League. They're in a best of five series for the League Championship. Instead of a campfire on the beach, I spent my birthday with my family, sipping beer and watching the Quakes tie the series 2-2. The kicker of the evening was after Andy talked the PA announcer into announcing my birthday, but he said "Happy Birthday Ed Harrelson" during the game.

September 5, 2010

Labor Day Splash

We had planned on camping part of this weekend with our great friends Paul and Linda, but the weather forecast was for triple digit temperatures. Without a hookup for the air conditioner, an RV is a miserable place in that kind of heat.

Instead, we headed out for the day (stopping first at the Farmer's Market). Paul has a beautiful new boat and he took great pleasure in dragging the family and friends behind it. This shot shows the before and after of one of Andy's rides. Unfortunately, I didn't get a shot of the aftermath where the impact blew out the panels on his life vest like shipwreck flotsam.

The Vail Lake Resort was hosting a concert on the lawn, so we gorged on Linda's barbecue ribs and shrimp while watching some live bands and a laser show. The first band, Rockola, was very good and we would definitely catch another one of their shows. They played an hour of Beetles and an hour of sixties and seventies tunes. Good times.

It is home for chores on Sunday, but on Labor Day I'm working the LA Fair, in the Wilderness Ridge area, by the Home and Gardens area. I'll be working with Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear, representing the US Forest Service.

September 1, 2010

The Backyard Campfire

Time for an update on the backyard fire ring. I finally got the bench top installed and I'm pretty pleased with the results. I debated a lot about using redwood or the plastic/wood alternatives. Ultimately, the decision was in favor of redwood because of the sagging and heat absorption that can occur with the man-made stuff.

We'll need to get a basket of seat cushions, and I'd like to fill the area between the ring and the benches with gravel, but Andy is convinced it is ready for a back yard bonfire. This project ought to top out at $500 with those extras, but it should last for years.

The blackout dates on our Disneyland passes are finally over, so we can get back to the Happiest Place on Earth. We love meeting up with family and friends for evenings in the park. Michael and Obed come down from LA often, and we always have a great time.

Today is the first of the month and that means hovering around the computer at 7:59 AM trying for the best reservations when they open at eight. I've tried unsuccessfully for years to get one of the cottages at Crystal Cove State Beach, but my luck changed! This morning I got reservations for this cottage a short walk from the Beach and Ruby's Shake Shack. In March, we'll leave La Rana in storage and spend the weekend in this quaint cottage, built in 1938. It'll be a full moon, so midnight beach combing!

August 26, 2010

Lake Hemet

Last weekend was a terrific two nights at Lake Hemet with our friends Paul, Linda, Jake and Vicki. The campground has a couple hundred sites, and over half are permanent residents. Our sites were roomy, with large shade trees providing some shelter from the scorching heat. A short bike ride away is a market and deli, which helped out with the inevitable shopping list of forgotten items.

Paul launched one of his fishing boats and we went out for a cruise on the lake. We were surprised to find out that the lake is a nesting area for the American Bald Eagle. We saw a mother eagle and her youngster down by the dam. Very cool!

Some of us went for a day trip into Idyllwild where they found this photo opportunity. With a little computer magic, Andy got his mug in the same photo four times.

August 7, 2010

All the Comforts of Home

During my Saturday morning web crawl, I ran into this photo of some camper's efforts to bring all the comforts of home to a tent campsite. I sure hope he hasn't kludged up some indoor plumbing too.

This weekend is one of our rare stays at the house, but we're getting ready for a trip with friends to Lake Hemet and Idyllwild later this month. Andy has been trying to cram in as many summer activities as possible into his last two weeks before returning to school.

July 18, 2010

H-O-T Weekend

It has been triple digit temperatures around here lately, so on Thursday night, Sherry and I escaped to Newport Beach for a walk on the pier in the cool evening.

On Saturday the family loaded up La Rana and headed up the mountain to Lake Gregory for a couple rides through the pines on the water slides. Andy's basketball buddy Frosty joined us for some lake bottom squished between our toes. We headed to Lake Arrowhead Village for dinner and then pulled into Dogwood Campground for the night.

Sherry likes loves to knit, and likes to read, but can't do both at the same time. That prompted me to read the first twelve chapters of The Art of Racing in the Rain aloud on Saturday night. It is easily one of the best books I've read in years, and we both couldn't wait for the next chapter. In the early morning, we sat in the first rays of the sun, sipping coffee, and I continued. I read a passage which described the fact that the Native Americans of the Northwest believed the Creator of man was the raven, while the native peoples of the Plains believe it is the coyote. Just seconds later, a coyote walked through the woods, not twenty yards from us!

Here is a video trailer for the book from the publisher.

July 8, 2010

Backyard Campfires

This isn't really about camping, but it is about campfires. With the sun going down so late, I've been able to do some puttering outside after work. We have at least a couple backyard campfires a month so I've wanted some benches out there. Last year I salvaged eight telephone pole segments from a drive-through getting a landscape remodel. The long boards were salvaged from some cement forms when I built the fence. That means I've only spent $19 on the bolts to assemble the frame. The bench top will be a little pricey, but I'm making it out of recycled decking. I'll get Andy to dig out the soil around the fire ring and backfill it with gravel. It should be a nice little social area when it gets done.

July 5, 2010

Tinkering Tripod

As much as we love our little video projector, it suffers from a lack of height adjustment. In past trips we've used everything from sticks to pine cones in order to get it pointing correctly at the screen. With about $5 in hardware and my pocket tripod, the problem is solved. I used a double-gang blank exterior outlet cover (the weather sealing makes a great anti-slip top!), a 1/4-20x5/16 T-nut with brad holes, and a couple of 1/4x3/4 rubber washers. Works like a charm.

June 29, 2010

Magic Stove

Every once in a while, I run into some obscure destination on the web that is appropriate for posting here. This is obviously one of those destinations. Cabinet Magazine has a cool article on the history of the camp stove, including this 1850 model Soyer's Magic Stove. Reportedly, the Marquis of Normanby, was an eccentric aristocrat who used the stove to cook a dinner atop a pyramid in Egypt over 160 years ago. Unfortunately, the account does not indicate the menu.

June 20, 2010

Serrano = Mountain People

We just got back from two nights at Serrano, next to Big Bear Lake. Serrano is the Native American name for the mountain people who lived here and it is one of our favorite places because the pine shaded sites are level and spacious, plus there are lots of activities like hiking to the Big Bear Discovery Center, the Stanfield Marsh, and cool little shops nearby.

While there isn't a store in Serrano, a short walk away is the camp store for the Lighthouse Trailer Resort. That campground doesn't have the best reviews, but the store is the cleanest I've ever seen at a family-run campground.

This trip wasn't just a Father's Day outing, but a family trip with Sherry's family. You can tell by the smiles, we all had a terrific time.

Off the subject of camping, the Norco High yearbook came out with a couple photos of Andy's skills on the court. As Andy would say, "Cool Beans." I think that means he approves.

June 11, 2010

With Our Thoughts and Prayers

AP NEWS: Flash floods swamped campgrounds along a pair of southwestern Arkansas rivers early Friday, killing 16 people and leaving anguished families pleading with emergency workers for help in finding dozens of missing people. The Albert Pike Recreation Area, a 54-unit campground in the Ouachita National Forest, was packed with vacationing families. Two dozen people were hospitalized and another 60 were rescued from the steep Ouachita Mountains valley. At least 40 from the area are still missing.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and those still missing. Please consider a donation to the American Red Cross.

May 31, 2010

The Rock

"Ladies and gentlemen, I, Ranger Bob, cordially invite you to become inmates of Alcatraz" Remember that line? It was from The Rock, and after watching that movie so many times, it was really kind of odd walking around Alcatraz Island at sunset on Saturday.

Sherry had training in San Francisco all week, so Andy and I flew up for the long holiday weekend. We took in all the touristy sights we could cram in with a transit pass and walking shoes. The highlight, however, had to be the Rock at night. The golden sunset added so much to the institutional pink of the buildings. It was great to get Andy into a setting his parents have talked about for his whole life. It was such a terrific (non-camping) trip, but it is good to be back home so my feet can heal.

May 16, 2010

Tin Mine Time

It has been such a busy Spring, that we haven't had time to get out for a hike through Tin Mine Canyon. We made a point of catching up this Saturday morning (after a stop at the Farmer's Market). The creek was still running through most of the canyon, but dried up before it got to the parking area. There were lots of wildflowers still in bloom, especially these wonderful Matilija Poppies, which always remind me of a fried egg.

After breakfast, we hooked up with Sherry's Dad, Art, for a trip to the Koroneburg Old World Festival (aka Ren Faire). The setting is the fictitious estate of the Baron Heinrich Von Lauffer, located along the Rhine river (aka Santa Ana River) in 1450. They have a small Ren Faire on the grounds every year between Mother's Day and Father's Day. Not too big, not too small, just the right size for some cold ale, wenches and bad jokes. We munched on Prime Rib and pulled pork sandwiches, mushrooms and pear ale.

May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

For years now, I've enjoyed a camping trip with my Mom for Mother's Day. When we were both younger, it was backpacking to Hoegee's Camp in the Angeles National Forest. Now, it is an overnighter in the RV. This year, we headed down to Newport Dunes.

Located in the "California Riviera" (according to their literature), the Dunes is the country club of RV parks. Until now, I've never stayed at a park where fire pit rental is $25 a day. Despite fees for just about everything, the dinner we had at the Back Bay Bistro was a tremendous value. For the price of a fire pit, I had fresh bread and salad, Asian style vegetables and rice with grilled ribeye, and dessert. Awesome meal.

The next morning, we rolled up the awning and headed over to Balboa Island. We did a three-mile round-trip walk across the island, across the ferry, and after a great breakfast on the waterfront, we went on a harbor cruise and out to the buoy to see the California Sea Lions. Can you still call it camping if you never cook a meal? Great trip. Love you Mom!

May 5, 2010

I Think We Need T-Shirts

May 2, 2010

It Was Supposed to Be...

This weekend was supposed to be a guy's trip with Andy bringing three of his buddies along. Unfortunately, troubles at school for the buddies eliminated that possibility; though right up until the morning we left, it was on again and off. With our hearts still set on Joshua Tree, we decided to bring my Godson and the dogs for the trip.

Anthony had specific goals for the camping trip. He wanted to walk the dogs, climb on rocks, put sticks in the fire, and fly a kite. We got to do all of those, except for the camping part. By nightfall he was ready to be back with Grandma, and so we doused the fire and headed back home Saturday night.

Our trip was anything but smooth sailing. When we got to JT, we learned that all of the campgrounds were full, so we could aim for the BLM dry camp with no campfires allowed, or try out a private campground in Joshua Tree. We did a drive through JT with a few stops for Anthony's list, and along the way, a bottle of olive oil fell from the cabinets and exploded on the floor. Adding to the aggrivation was counting how many times Anthony asked if we were camping yet. After completing the circuit, we ended up at the JT Lake RV Campground, across the valley from the National Park. It is run by some visionary young folks who have a music festival there every year, and it definitely had a hippie vibe to it.

Our dog Digger was perfect, but Scooby must have suffered a brain trauma because she lost several IQ points and started acting possessed. After experiencing 90 pounds of dogs fighting in the front of the RV while I'm driving, I'm sure that was her last camping trip. I've posted all of our trip photos at this website.

April 15, 2010

Dueling Paddles

Ask anyone who went on the trip with us, there was a kid at the campground that had to have come from the same gene pool as the banjo kid in Deliverance. Even so, we all survived the trip down the Kaweah River and there are pictures to prove it.

Linda added several from the river trip, and I added some labels for those who need a program. And for the sake of Andy's ego, he chose to swim here, he wasn't knocked overboard. And for the sake of everyone's lunch, I cropped off the eight pairs of legs in tight neoprene wetsuits in that last photo.

April 10, 2010

Spring Break in Three Rivers

This year, we shared Spring Break with a camping trip with several of our friends (Back: Robert, Jana, Wendy, Ed & Andy. Front: Paul, Linda & Sherry). We left after Easter for the town of Three Rivers, along the Kaweah River, in the foothills below Sequoia National Park.

Our campsite was a private campground filled with full-timers and river guides. We could have stayed inside the park, but this was the closest full-hookup site, and for easy meals, we really wanted to be able to plug in the crock-pot while we were out playing. It was probably a little too much like camping in someone's back yard, but the Kaweah River was a short walk from the campsite, and the price was right. Next time, we'd probably stay at the Kaweah Park Resort.

The winter snow pack was quite deep, but we made it up to Wuksachi Lodge on Tuesday for lunch and some snow play. It was incredibly beautiful up there, but nice to be camping out of the snow.

Andy and his pseudo-sister Wendy were having a killer snow-ball fight across several acres. We warmed up after dinner under blankets for warm cobbler and movies projected onto a sheet on the side of Paul and Linda's trailer.

On Wednesday, we all had a blast doing some Class III+ rapids on the Kaweah River. If you look closely between those gray beams in the raft, you can see one of the dogs that went rafting with us. We did rapids with names like Tuber's Religion and Devil's Eyeball.

Thursday was a bit of everything with Robert, Jana and Wendy going back up to the snow for snowshoeing; Linda and Sherry shopping; Paul fishing; I went for a hike along the Kaweah; and Andy caught up on his sleep and X-Box.

Friday morning it was time to pack up and head for home with the obligatory stop at the Outlet Center. I've posted all of the photos at this web page.