December 11, 2011

Camping Eclipsed

We won't be camping this month. Instead, we headed out with family for an early Christmas with all of my Mom's side of the family.

While it wasn't camping, we did manage to get some astronomical excitement as we watched the lunar eclipse from the Sunshine State. We also visited the Cabela's in Glendale, Arizona to check out their cool camping gear.

November 26, 2011


This year's Thanksgiving was at home, but the day after was shared with our Death Valley group, while camping at Jake's place. We got kicked out of our usual camp site near Tecopa, so we met this weekend to discuss alternatives. Chuck suggested an old World War II airstrip in the desert between Ridgecrest and Boron. I started doing some research on the area, and found the place is actually called Goler Gulch. Being a Disney dude, I couldn't help but think of Goofy, saying Goler and Garsh, but the more I look into the place, the more interesting it becomes.

In 1893, a prospector named John Goler found several 10 ounce gold nuggets in the area, and soon there were several mines pulling out over a million dollars of gold from the many washes in the area. Seven miles southwest of the area was another goldfield where they cashed in over $8 million. There is plenty of exploring to be done in this area, and we'll have to pick up some gold pans before we go.

Click for larger view

November 15, 2011

Just Cruising this Month

Our once a month camping routine was interrupted by a cruise this month. Sherry and I just got back from a seven-day Carnival cruise to Mexico. Because of the narco-politics in Mexico, we only visited two ports: Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.

I won't spend too much time talking about this non-camping trip, but you can check out a gallery of photos at this link. We spent Tuesday lounging at the Me-Cabo resort. On Wednesday, we had a personal tour with a guide from San Jose del Cabo, which we decided was a much better place than Cabo San Lucas. San Jose is a place where the desert meets the Sea of Cortez. The streets are narrow cobblestones, and the village is built around a centuries old adobe mission. There are art walks and farmer's markets in the courtyard -- a thousand times nicer than the frat party in Cabo.

A rare piece of solitude at the end of Baja

We couldn't spend the night in Cabo, so the cruise ship tooled around at sea overnight and came back to port the next day. They didn't officially tell us why we didn't stay anchored overnight, but I know from the behind the scenes tour I took that they have to be twelve-miles out in order to discharge black and gray water, and a food-waste smoothie into the deep.

After crossing the Sea of Cortez, we docked in Puerto Vallarta (next to a Walmart and Sam's Club). Vallarta is less a desert and more like a jungle. We went on a tour through the city, visited a Tequila Distillery and then were taken deep into the jungle to dine at the most incredible family-run restaurant. The surrounding community looked like that town in The Run Down. The seating area was on a concrete slab, covered only by a steel roof. A large rooster roamed the area looking for scraps. There was no menu, the owner just showed us a cooler of sea food. We ordered a plate for the two of us, and this is what he gave us: a lobster, two red snappers, eight shrimp and two mahi-mahi filets. AMAZING!

Best seafood dinner ever!

October 30, 2011

The End of an Era

For a few years now, we've joined a band of desert rats for a twice-annual boondock in the wilds just south of Death Valley National Park. Our group has been camping there for over 40 years. It is a remote location which requires some skilled driving to get the caravan back into the secluded canyon of volcanic ash, opals and mastodon fossils. As it turns out, we learned that our spot in the desert has become part of the Ibex Wilderness and after a nice-enough visit by the NPS Ranger, we've been told, in no uncertain terms, this was our last trip with vehicles.

One of the highlights of these trips is the venturing out into rarely visited remnants of desert life. On this trip, we followed the right-of-way of the Death Valley Railroad. This narrow-gauge railway was built in 1914 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company with the route running from Ryan, California, located just east of Death Valley National Park, to Death Valley Junction, a distance of approximately 20 miles. Regular operation of the railroad stopped in 1928. Most of the construction labor was done by Chinese laborers who lived in these rustic stacked stone structures with canvas roofs. This structure was the largest we found, and it was surrounded by a dozen or more smaller structures that were the size of a bedroll, and only a couple feet high (Google Earth view). There were lots of remnants of their encampment; mostly tobacco cans and water jugs.

We were able to 4x4 for some distance, before landslides meant hiking the last three miles. You can see that the roadbed follows the contour of the mountains and there are some incredible vistas across Death Valley.

The Ryan Mine is the terminus of this roadbed, but armed guards prevent getting any closer than a mile or more from this compound. The locals say that they switched from Borax to a nitrate and it might be Homeland Security that requires the extra protection.

Along the way we found one ore car that we could reach and a couple others within view, but far down a landslide. After a couple of hours hiking, and climbing over rockfall, we came to a large set of mines on the friendly side of the Ryan mines. Most of the wood structures had long been burned or removed, but we rested in the shade of this shack before heading back to the trucks.

After two nights in the desert, probably our last at this camp, it was time for the long drive back home and a nap for the puppies.

October 9, 2011


For us public servants, this is a long Columbus Day weekend, and one we don't use for camping. Since it isn't a holiday for the schools, Sherry and I have used the annual holiday for a trip to the Huntington Museum and Gardens for a grown-up day with lunch in the tea room. This tradition has been going on for over a decade. Now that Andy is almost 17, another tradition has changed hats from our son to our godson, Anthony. We spent the day, and much of the evening at the Disneyland Resort.

October 3, 2011

Dogwood with Rocky and Mom

This past weekend, it was just Mom and I for a weekend getaway to Dogwood. It was a very relaxing weekend and I got to try out my new hammock -- twice. We also stopped at a GREAT sandwich shop at Highway 18 and Kuffel Canyon. Rocky's Outpost had the most awesome bread on their sandwiches. Great weekend and great food.

September 24, 2011

How Much Does It Cost?

The two things we always get asked by non-owners is How much does it cost to register with the DMV? and How much is insurance? I just got our registration in the mail, so the answers are $313 and $36 a month, and worth every penny.

September 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Luau

This past weekend was my 50th birthday. We celebrated by inviting friends and family to camp with us, or join us for the day at a Hawaii Five-Oh themed luau. We had ten campsites full of love and I feel blessed to have such awesome friends and family.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. There is a full gallery of photos on this page.

August 14, 2011

The Butterfly Festival

This weekend's trip was to the annual Butterfly Festival at the Idyllwild Nature Center. We escaped the heat of the flatlands by driving up the Hill for our monthly camping trip. After setting up camp, we spent Friday afternoon, shopping in town and then visiting the butterflies. Paul and I found that both the heat and the butterflies were much more enjoyable with adult beverages.

There were lots of monarchs in screen tents that would feed off chunks of watermelon you could hold out for them. In the late afternoon, they opened the screens and let them fly away. There were some of the local artisans showing their crafts, so Sherry got some hand spun yarn, a beaded spider, and a "beer ball" necklace.

We camped at the Idyllwild County Park with Linda and Paul Jones. The park was at capacity, but the crew did a great job of keeping everything clean and under control. This campground is along a canyon wall so the parking spaces are all on incline with semi-level tent spaces cut into the hillside. There were a few RV friendly sites at the far loop, but the ambiance there is like camping at the County Fair. The only site we liked was the one I had hand picked six months ago when I made the reservations. Number 9 has some privacy from the other sites, and is overlooking Lily Creek. The site is a pull-through, but I would never try it with a trailer as there is a substantial elevation change from the road to the campsite, and it would surely fold a trailer like a taco. If I couldn't get Site #9, I would point La Rana down the road. There were lots of great tent sites.

Paul, Linda, Andy and Sherry pondering Paul's Pink Choo Choo sticker.
On Sunday morning we drove over to Lake Fulmor where we met up with Wendy, Ahlia and Azia for a hike around the lake and a drive up to the Black Mountain Fire Lookout. We had a lot of fun looking at cattails, damselflies, ducks, and vultures.
Any time is a great time to get up to the lookout, but it was great being able to share it with family and friends. The girls all thought the road reminded them of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. This was another great weekend, but it is still too hot (at 8:30 PM) to unload the RV!

Andy wasn't so impressed with the butterflies, but I wish I had video of him chasing one just a few minutes after this photo.

July 30, 2011

Needles Lookout Lost to Fire

Those that visit this site know that I am the volunteer leader for the Black Mountain Fire Lookout. Sherry calls it my timeshare tree-house, as I put in my hours and enjoy the benefits of a unique place at the top of the world. That being said, I have a special place in my heart for fire lookouts.

On Thursday, we lost an amazing fire lookout, in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, in the Sequoia National Forest.

The Needles lookout tower was built between 1937 and 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The tower overlooked Kern River Drainage, Mt. Whitney, Olancha Peak, Farewell Gap and Dome Rock.

According to the local fire department spokesperson, the tower staff had a fire going in the wood-burning fireplace when an ember escaped from the chimney and landed on the tower’s wood-shingle roof, catching the roof on fire. The Lookout staff member had worked in that tower every fire season for 25 years, hiking over two miles to get to work, with the last third of a mile being stairs across the granite peak.

It seems that we lose a couple towers every year, but I can't tell you when the last one was built.

July 10, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

Andy got invited to go on a camping trip this weekend with friends, so we cancelled our Dogwood reservations for next weekend and went this weekend instead. Andy went to Bonita Ranch, a converted trailer park along the lower fork of Lytle Creek (like camping in a backyard, except for the creek and hike to  Bonita Falls).

I took my Mom for our annual Mother-Son trip to Table Mountain. We were just there two months ago, but this time, we stayed in the same site we were in back in 2007 with our Caboose. We forgot to bring cameras, so here is a photo from that trip four years ago.

We had a terrific time in one of our favorite campgrounds. We saw a sailplane catching thermals above us, and once the sun went down, bats took it's place in acrobatics above our campfire. We brought Mom's dog Sadie, who would have spent the weekend sequestered in the closet while Mom was gone. Instead, she spent the weekend being a dog -- digging holes and getting dirty. That meant a stop at the do-it-yourself Paw Spa

June 19, 2011

Gonzales Family Campout

We spent Father's Day weekend on the second annual Gonzales family camp-out. Sherry's Mom and our godson, Anthony joined us in La Rana, while everyone else was in tents. We stayed two nights at Green Valley Campground, two miles past Green Valley Lake.

There was plenty of firewood nearby as the USFS had been harvesting trees burned in the 2007 Slide Fire. As you can see from the photo at left, the forest has become inhabited with crazy man-tree hybrids. As you can see from the photo below, Andy isn't sure if he remembered to put on some pants.

This last photo is one Linda took of Sherry and I on our trip last month to Table Mountain. Great place for sunsets.

June 17, 2011

On the Interwebs

You know how much a new door is at CampingWorld? I'd pay good money to see what the inside of this trailer looks like.

June 6, 2011

Guerrilla Campground

I had to share this great story from the news today. A campground that was closed due to budget cuts has had the campsites mysteriously mowed, bathrooms opened, and trails cleared by someone who really wanted the campground reopened!

June 5, 2011

Black Mountain Vista

We opened up the Black Mountain Lookout Tower two weeks ago, but today was my first full shift, and a solo one at that. I had brought up some homework to work on, but couldn't really concentrate on anything. This place is my stress valve. I took a bunch of photos of the tower to document some maintenance issues, but I also stitched together this panorama from the catwalk. It doesn't quite capture the full circle (the southern view was way overexposed). Make sure you click on it and scroll right and left to see the whole thing. That is San Gorgonio in the center and San Jacinto on the right.

May 22, 2011

Table for Six, Please

This weekend we headed over the 7,000' level for a weekend at Table Mountain. Andy brought his buddy Orlando, and we were joined again by our friends Paul and Linda. Clearly, one of our favorite things about this campground is it is only an hour from the house, but up in the timber without any challenging mountain driving. The campsite is just about four miles from Wrightwood, and at the fork in the road, you can head off three miles in one direction to the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center. Take another fork, and you'll find Jackson Lake. This short video shows some of the highlights of another great weekend getaway.

What isn't in the video is some of the window shopping the grownups did on Saturday. On the road to camp, a cabin, built in 1926, is up for sale. We started talking about how nice it would be to have such a place and before you knew it, we were cruising all over town checking out the real estate offerings. We were clearly just dreaming, but it was a fun afternoon.

May 5, 2011

Spring Boondock

After school and work on Friday, we headed out across the Mojave desert. Soon the sun was down, and I turned off on Afton Road, halfway between Barstow and Baker. There was no moon, and obviously no streetlights, and we've never been there before, so driving down the dirt road to Afton Canyon was a little intimidating. At one point, Andy said, "Dad if you're taking us out here to kill us, I'm going to be really mad!"

In the morning, however, it was, "Wow, this place is pretty cool." The Mojave River runs underground through much of the desert, and every once in a while, bedrock forces it to the surface. That is what caused this great little oasis away from everything.
We packed up after breakfast and a hike up one of the side canyons. We were on our way to the Annual Spring Boondock in Death Valley.

We got there a little before lunch, but soon we were back on the road again, this time with the others for some rock-hounding. Sherry and Andy found some pink amethyst crystals which I'm sure will be incorporated into some Hogwarts craft.
We made sure to get back to camp in time for the burn-your-own-meat potluck dinner. It was an amazing spread and more than a few arteries were more constricted after that carnivore carnival.

On Sunday morning, we did our usual shooting match, but this time Andy kept the rifle in the case and we worked on holster technique. Our host, Jake, brought his old duty weapon and Sam Browne, and let me teach Andy how to shoot from the hip. As expected, Andy was a quick study, and was looking like an old pro.
Everyone in this bunch is always so welcoming and friendly, and they always make us feel like family when we join them. Thanks guys!

April 11, 2011

Spring Break in Daytona Beach

We just got back from Spring Break in Daytona Beach, Florida. Though the National Cheerleading Championship was going on at our hotel, our plans didn't include beer-bongs or public debauchery. Instead, we were the guests of our dear friends Paul and Linda Jones. We went with their son, Jessie and his girlfriend, Abbie.

On Sunday, we headed south for an airboat tour. Words can't do it justice, so click on the video below to see what fun we had.

Following the airboat tour, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, where we saw the Space Shuttle Endeavor being readied on the launch pad. I remember fondly when my parents took me to see the Shuttle land at Edwards, and it was great to be able to share a similar experience with our son. There was so much to see here, we could've spent most of the day and still missed seeing it all.

Monday's agenda was an excursion to Ponce Inlet. This is a quiet little residential area, with a historic lighthouse and a great restaurant on the water. The place felt like we were down in the Keys, with a weathered dock just past our table, and our conversations interrupted by dolphins swimming by close enough to hear them breathe. The kids rented wave runners and followed the river out to the ocean and jumped the waves at freeway speeds.

Tuesday brought tornado warnings, so we stayed at the resort and took advantage of the discount tickets for the theater next door to catch up on some movies. Sherry and I started the morning with a walk on the beach, where the storm had washed up several of the Portuguese Man O'War jellyfish. As we reached at least a mile from our resort, the storm hit with a wallop, and we ran across the beach, jumping over the jellies and getting absolutely drenched. It was a blast!

After the storm passed, it was time for an early breakfast and race to the Islands of Adventure so we could check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This has been something that Sherry has been wanting to do since first hearing of it's construction, so we were there before the gates opened, and raced the crowds to get in line. Once again, a fantastic experience, best explained with this short video.

On Thursday, we headed north, to the Oklawaha River, where Paul and Linda had rented a pontoon boat and took us on a personal tour of this part of Florida's natural environment. We saw Osprey, Bald Eagles, Egrets, Herons, and of course, more alligators. Click on the video below for a ride along this historic river.

We are so lucky to have such great friends in the Jones family. This was a terrific week, and one we'll remember forever. We have a full gallery of photos here.

March 25, 2011

Hey, Lookout!

My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a stay at the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages. We had made the reservations to stay ourselves, but when they said they didn't want any public celebration, the stay at the beach, on a full moon, well, that was just meant to be.

That also meant that March was only the third month in four years that we haven't gone camping or at least on a family trip during the month (we did go see the Ben Franklin exhibit at the Bower's Museum). We're going to make up for it however in April when we've got a week in Florida and a weekend in Death Valley. In between those two trips, I've got seven days of teaching new fire lookout volunteers. Baseball season starts too, so that works out to only twelve days in the month when we don't have something going!

That's a negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.
This will be my third fire season as the leader for Black Mountain Fire Lookout. In this photo, I'm training one of last year's new volunteers. As I get older, I can't help but think I'm looking like a chubby Tom Skerrit in Top Gun. That Navy blue hat sure helps the perception. I just need some scrambled eggs on the bill.

Andy doesn't see the resemblance and instead suggests that I look like neighbor in the movie "Despicable Me." I haven't seen the movie but Andy was nice enough to pull up this image from YouTube for me. I don't see it in the face, but I'm working on that gut.

February 21, 2011

Cancel a Trip? Hail No!

Somewhere under the rainbow
is the only photo of Paul, and
we never did get a shot of Linda
We had a great campsite reserved at San Clemente State Beach, and our friends Paul and Linda had a site reserved a few steps away. Great plan, but all week long we watched the weather report and the big storms heading in from the Pacific. We briefly debated canceling, but as Sherry pointed out, one of our favorite family trips was when we were snowed in and down to our last can of soup and some crackers.

Southern California in February
Andy brought his buddy Alex, and we brought our friend Wendy, so with Paul and Linda, we had seven of us braving a storm of biblical proportions. Saturday night was water spouts off the coast, hail, torrents of frozen mud, and a bunch of friends huddled inside watching a movie.

Sunday morning greeted us with a rainbow over La Rana and soon enough, everyone was out exploring the aftermath. It was a three-mile round trip hike on the beach to the pier, and nearly everyone, including Shasta made the trip at some point during the weekend. We headed into San Juan Capistrano for lunch and my first tour of the Mission since grade school. 

Since it was President's Day weekend, we still had another day left, and we checked out the surf beach at San Onofre and then headed to our favorite fish and chips joint for lunch and then headed home. I'm so glad we didn't cancel the trip. This was a great weekend.

January 21, 2011

Squirrel Appreciation Day

Apparently, today is Squirrel Appreciation Day according to the National Wildlife Federation.

With the exception of our Death Valley and Joshua Tree trips, I can't remember a single camping trip where we didn't see a squirrel.

Now, let's count the seconds until we get a Rocky and Bullwinkle comment. Tic, Tock...