Archive for the ‘Mountain camping’ Category

Mountain knight stars, part two

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The first part of this multifaceted story delineated our sally into the cool mountains while a storm was brewing back home where the San Diego Opera was fighting for its life, even as some were trying to bury it while its heart was still beating.  It was expected to begin closing down after the last performance of Don Quixote* on April 13, but now has a reprieve until May 19 while ways are explored to save the San Diego Opera.

I continued reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote,* seeing parallelisms, and appreciating the main character, the romantic dreamer who often faced crossroads and chose adventure over shelter.

DSC_0048 At the crossroads

We continued our Airstream Safari adventure into the mountains by hiking along the park roads and trails that permit dogs on a leash.  We had been disappointed with the scarce wildflowers seen in the Anza-Borrego Desert this spring due to the ongoing California historic drought.  Most of the late winter/early spring rain that moved through our county was intercepted by our local mountains, which resulted in some spectacular displays of flowers here, such as St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, known by herbalists as a remedy for a variety of ills.

DSC_0039 Saint John's wort

Seen below is the Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, next to a wood fence where I had photographed jumping mule deer last fall.

DSC_0042 Red Bud

After hiking, we returned to our campsite, which was surrounded by blooming Palmer Lilac, Ceanothus palmeri.

DSC_0092 Palmer Lilac

Larry prepared langostino/pork bean curd skin rolls for dinner that were cut up, steamed, and lifted out in a stainless steel bowl by a Chinese steamer plate holder.

DSC_0109 Bean curd skin rolls

This was served with a delicious salad and dipping sauces (sriracha, hoisin, and sweet chili).

DSC_0114 Dinner table setting

We savored this and other dinners while watching beautiful sunsets and the many birds of this wooded park, such as the Western Bluebird (below) and enjoyed their songs and calls, such as those of the Spotted Towhee* and the Dusky-capped Flycatcher.*

DSC_0128_4 Western Bluebird

Each night after dinner, the mountain air quickly cooled as the stars began to shine* and my mind began to wander and dream of adventures and of the great stories and operas such as Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte (Don Quixote).*

DSC_0082 Mountain stars

In the final act, La mort de Don Quichotte (Massenet)*, Don Quixote dies of a broken heart.  Hopefully Don Quixote will not be San Diego Opera’s swan song, but will mark the crossroads where San Diego Opera resurrected itself.  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing and supporting!

*This is a YouTube video.

Mountain knight stars, part one

Friday, April 18th, 2014

As we prepared for a change in our camping venue, from the now hot desert to our relatively cool mountains, we heard the shocking news that the San Diego Opera would begin to shut down after the last performance of Don Quixote* in April.  San Diego Opera, considered one of the top ten opera companies in the nation, is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.  I was especially saddened because I have performed as a supernumerary in 21 San Diego operas over a ten year period, which included roles such as the soldier, guard, henchman seen here in Tosca, and lead waiter in Cosi fan tutte.*  I brought along the novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, to read during our 5-day mountain camping trip so that I could totally immerse myself in this multifaceted story (and local drama) and appreciate the character of Don Quixote, brought to life onstage by bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto* in the operatic version, Don Quichotte, by Jules Massenet.*

DSC_0067 Don Quixote & knights

The more I read, the more I began to identify with this knight-errant character, who goes on quests, searches for adventures, does good deeds, appreciates beauty, pursues dreams, fights for things he loves, and yet remains compassionate.  I began to see parallelisms as waxing moonlight gleamed on our trailer’s armor when the stars began to shine.*

DSC_0075 Armour under mtn

As we battled the hot sun by extending the rear awning with an additional sail held in place by ratcheted webbing, I remembered Don Quixote’s battle with giants (windmill sails).*

DSC_0029 Rear awning extension sail

We trekked on mountain trails on a quest for adventure.*

DSC_0054 Larry, Mac, & Tasha, Cedar Trail

I spotted what looked like a Dementor or something else* and prepared to do battle.

DSC_0095 Dementor?

But just then, a wary wild turkey hen emerged while foraging.

DSC_0017 Wary turkey hen

Her worried look seemed justified because she was being pursued and courted by a strutting tom turkey, whose grandiose display reminded me of the valiant character, Don Quixote.

DSC_0142 Tom turkey struts

More mountain adventures are coming up in part two, along with stunning flowers, feasts, stars, and more about Don Quixote and the San Diego Opera,** why this opera needs to be saved,* and how you can come to its rescue!  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing… and saving!***

*This is a YouTube video.

**UCSD-TV San Diego Opera Spotlight video

***This is a San Diego Opera video produced by UCSD-TV

Snug as a bug in a Safari

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

NOAA issued a Wind Warning as the first cold storm of the season barreled down the Pacific coast and made its way to the mountains midweek during our first camping trip of the season.  We saw clouds moving in as we ate bratwurst and a salad Tuesday evening and then battened down the hatches by taking mats to the truck and the table display and setting into our Airstream Safari.

DSC_0045 Airstream away from trees

Our favorite site here puts the Safari in full sun that maximizes the effectiveness of our rooftop solar panels and distances the trailer from the surrounding trees.  Wind gusts up to 65 mph were predicted, so I moved our truck out of harm’s way since it was under a tall pine tree with large and heavy pine cones.

DSC_0042 Pine tree with heavy cones

During the night we could hear the wind high up in the trees and raindrops on our trailer.  The temperature in our trailer was 55° when we awoke, and 49° the following morning.  We were reluctant to use the trailer’s furnace while doing non-hookup camping because it can quickly drain battery power and we weren’t sure when the sun would return and recharge our batteries.  We experienced similar conditions here last spring, and after that trip we found a solution.  We bought Mr. Heater Portable Buddy, MH9BX, indoor-safe (if used as directed by the “Operating Instructions and Owner’s Manual”), radiant heater.

DSC_0003 Mr Heater Buddy

We carefully read the instructions, viewed a review* and tried it out at home before bringing it along for its first test in the field.  For safe indoor use, the instructions say, “This heater requires a vent area of 9 square inches (example 3″ x 3″ opening) minimum for adequate ventilation during operation.”  We kept the bathroom vent and door open (our bathroom vent has a diameter of 6″, which is equivalent to 28.28 sq. in.).  For additional safety, the main door was left slightly ajar, and our carbon monoxide detector alarm never sounded.  The instructions also say, “keep any objects at least 24 inches from the front of the heater.”  We placed the heater on wood and a mat to ensure that the vinyl flooring immediately in front of the heater would not be damaged.

DSC_0099 Mr Heater in Airstream

We were pleased with its operation.  The first morning Mr. Heater brought the trailer’s temperature from 55° to a relatively comfortable 65° within 2 hours on the “LO” setting and was turned off.  We used it three more times that day, for 1-hour periods, to bring the temperature to 65°.  Our 16.4 oz. propane cylinder lasted 5 hours.  The next morning we attached a new cylinder and took away the morning chill.  So our rule of thumb now is to take along a propane cylinder for every day that rain and cold temperatures are predicted when we are doing non-hookup camping.

So instead of shivering, we were cozy and snug as a bug in our Safari, while listening to the falling rain.*

DSC_0112 Cozy Mac & Tasha

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Autumn leaves and leaps

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

We leaped into the beginning of our autumn camping season by returning to our favorite mountain campground, William Heise County Park, noted for its oak, pine, and cedar forests, Mule deer, and Rio Grande turkeys.  Our last autumn visit here was three years ago, so we really looked forward to experiencing the fall colors and the seasonal changes in the weather.  Last spring we rediscovered the joys of this park and were delighted to learn that the park now allows dogs (on a leash) on its more than ten miles of beautiful trails.

DSC_0073 Wm Heise autumn walk

We took advantage of the first two wonderfully sunny and mild days to get on the trails, especially our favorite Cedar Trail.  We were impressed with the sight of bright red leaves of Toxicondendron diversilobum (Pacific poison oak*) climbing up as a vine on oak trees.

DSC_0077 Pacific poison oak

Before the mid-week rain and windstorm moved in, we enjoyed watching hawks, crows, and bats fly by while enjoying sunset dinners at our campsite picnic table.  This summer our Oster long slot toaster burned out after only two years use.  We hated to toss this appliance since it has the classic, iconic shape of Airstream trailers*, so Larry gutted and converted it into a plate-napkin-chopstick holder (the treaded wheels came from Rockler).

DSC_0061 Plate-napkin-chopstick holder

I took an early morning hike hoping to spot some turkeys (last spring we noticed that they were not as plentiful as we had remembered seeing here three years ago).  As I walked up the campground road, I did spot a small rafter of turkeys* foraging on the hilltop meadow, but they ducked into the nearby woods as I approached with my camera.  I trekked further north without seeing more turkeys and began my return.  As I approached the same spot where I had earlier spotted turkeys, I was pleased to see a deer emerge from the woods, foraging…

DSC_0007 Mule deer foraging

followed by another…

DSC_0016 Mule deer foraging

Eventually a herd of five deer emerged and trotted across the meadow and leaped one by one over two rail fences and continued foraging!

DSC_0028 Deer leaping 1

DSC_0029 Leaping deer 2

They seemed to know that the safest place to cross is where there is a speed bump.  The “Speed Limit 10″ sign is a nice reminder to slow down and make the moment last,* and enjoy the falling autumn leaves* and leaps!

DSC_0120 Heise autumn leaves

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Celebrating life on Cedar Trail

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

After updating our trip notes in my See More, Do More, Live More – The Airstream Travel Journal notebook, we hiked the Cedar Trail and noticed that there are new signs, including one that alerted us that we were “Entering Mountain Lion Country”.  Cedar Trail is a one-mile loop trail that mostly stays under a canopy of oak, pine, and cedar trees representative of William Heise County Park, in San Diego, California.

DSC_0065 New signs for Cedar Trail

“Better to have campers take their dogs on the trails with a leash, than leave them alone at the campsite,” said the ranger.   We were thrilled with this new and progressive policy and took our Corgis, Mac and Tasha, on their first hike on a county trail.

DSC_0165 Larry & Corgis on Cedar Trail

Keeping an eye out for mountain lions, we rested on a bench near Cedar Creek and marveled at the magnificent trees and chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0144 Resting along Cedar Creek

Continuing on the trail, we saw dead oak trees killed by the goldspotted oak borer beetle, which has killed 80,000 oak trees in San Diego County over the past ten years.*  The 2003 Cedar Fire has also taken a toll here, but we celebrated the re-growth of trees, such as the California incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, coming up through holes in the oak canopy.

DSC_0055 Dead oak & live Cedar

We also spotted wild turkeys in this park and noticed that they did not seem as plentiful compared to when we first camped here six years ago.  Wild turkeys are considered a good “indicator species” and may reflect the health of an entire ecosystem.

DSC_0122 Heise Park wild turkeys

One of the trails from the Cedar Trail back to the campground passes by the cabin area.  These new William Heise Park cabins* are aesthetically pleasing, blend in well with the environment, and do not block views or replace RV campsites.

DSC_0105 Heise County Park Cabin

We returned to our favorite Airstream Safari campsite in this park and, even though we were tired, we smiled while we rested and cherished the memories of celebrating life* on Cedar Trail.

DSC_0058 A tired and happy Corgi!

*This is a YouTube video.

Summertime illuminations in the Cuyamacas

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

After cooling off at the beach, and rinsing off the salt deposits, our Airstream Safari was ready to get high again in the Cuyamaca Mountain Range that we visited just two months ago.  Last April, after a three year absence, we were curious to see how William Heise County Park fared after trees were damaged by wind and wet snow, and oak trees were killed by the Goldspotted Oak Borer.  We were pleased to see that there were plenty of oak trees still surviving and many improvements have been made, including new picnic tables, beautiful cabins, and the surprise that dogs are now allowed on park trails.  So on the eve of summer before temperatures peak, we returned for five days of camping in this beautiful forest setting surrounded by pine, oak, and cedar trees.

DSC_0041 Cedar fire damage to Cuyamacas

Ten years ago the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire* burned approximately 70% of William Heise Park, which is now a showcase of a forest in various stages of re-growth.  Chaparral is rapidly recovering, even though bleached white skeletons of black oaks and manzanitas are still seen on surrounding hillsides.  With rainfall just 65% of normal, San Diego County firefighters are preparing for yet another potentially dangerous wildfire season.

DSC_0032 Our Wm

We positioned our Safari in our favorite non-hookup campsite for optimal sunbathing, which enabled our two factory installed solar panels to recharge our two Lifeline AGM batteries to 100% by mid-morning each day.  We had full sun all five days and the solar panels delivered a total of 193 amp-hours by the fifth day.

Each day began by walking our Corgis, Mac and Tasha.  The ranger explained that the recent decision to allow dogs on trails in this park is based on the premise that it is better to have people enjoying hiking on trails with their dogs on a leash, than having dogs left alone at campsites.

DSC_0135 Larry walks Mac & Tasha

While our trailer soaked in the rays, we enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the nearby Coulter Pine and Canyon Live Oak trees as cool breezes flowed up the forest hillside.  This was an excellent location for reading, bird watching and listening to relaxing bird sounds.*  Our peace was only interrupted by biting flies that Tasha snapped at before retreating under the truck. (Larry killed 18 flies in one afternoon.)

DSC_0025 Relaxing in shade

DSC_0018 Bird watching at Heise

Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana

My summer reading included Illumination in the Flatwoods – A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey, by Joe Hutto. (Appropriate reading in a park known for its turkeys!)

DSC_0011 My summer reading

Our summer eve feasting included hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Mexican Zucchini steamed in a cast iron Japanese nabe.  It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy!*

DSC_0036 Summertime feasting

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cuyamaca Mountain high

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

While high winds roared through Southern California last Monday, causing power outages and damage in Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and dust storms in Arizona,* we were hunkered down in our Airstream Safari 4,200 feet above sea level in a pine and oak forest along the northern extremity of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range on our first full day in William Heise County Park after a 3 year absence.  By the following day, the wind and rain had stopped and we set up camp and enjoyed beautiful sunny weather the rest of the week.

DSC_0021 Heise campsite setup

On Wednesday, our good friends Bert and Janie came up from Borrego Springs for a day of hiking, photography, feasting, conversing and having a good time.

DSC_0039 Bert with new Nikon D800E

Bert brought along his new Nikon D800E.*  Bert and I promptly took our Nikon cameras on a hike on the Cedar Creek Trail, while Janie and Larry enjoyed chatting at our campsite.  As soon as we got on the trail, we were happy to spot a couple of mule deer.

DSC_0042 Deer on Cedar Creek Trail

We enjoyed photographing the rich textures of this oak, pine and cedar forest and delighted in the play of light and shadows.

DSC_0051 Bert shooting bench & trees

We returned to camp just in time for lunch that Larry was preparing:  Caldo de Mariscos (based on a recipe by Chef Rick Bayless*), a medley of squid, catfish, shrimp, and baby Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) simmered in a tomato-based soup, seasoned with guajillo chilies.

DSC_0090 Larry's Caldo de Mariscos

This savory dish brought smiles to all.

DSC_0094 Lunch with Bert & Janie

This is the second time this month that Bert has been observed slurping the last drops of soup out of his bowl (Japanese style).  The first time was recorded in Aluminarium’s blog post, “Bottoms Up!”

DSC_0096 Drinking soup Japanese style

We sipped on wine and shared our thoughts during this mellow afternoon.  We celebrated our wonderful times together this camping season: at Agua Caliente County Park last October and then celebrating life with a lunch, hike and photo shoot in November.  This truly was a mountain high* and we look forward to many more in the future!

DSC_0201 Mellow afternoon at Heise

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cabinization of our parks

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

It was love at first sight when we arrived at Agua Caliente County Park for the first time in November 2010.  We were thrilled that this park now allowed dogs and we scouted out the best site for our style of camping away from crowds.  We didn’t mind that the sites did not have Wi-Fi or cell phone reception without using special antennas or boosters.  This site was just big enough for our trailer and was nestled near mountains and had gorgeous vista views.

DSC_0125 Our 1st Agua Caliente site

DSC_0007 Vista view from our site

This quickly became our favorite desert camping site, so you can imagine our shock last fall to learn that we could not reserve this site or any of the other eleven RV sites on this southeast loop of the park because cabins were about to be built there!

DSC_0041 SE loop with 12 RV sites

So we reserved an alternative site and returned to Agua Caliente Regional Park last October and began documenting the “progress” of cabins replacing RV sites.  Our favorite site had already been leveled and fenced in.*

DSC_0045 Our site fenced in

By January, the foundations were in place for seven Agua Caliente cabins that the Annual Parks Improvement Plan estimated will cost $500,000.

DSC_0067 Agua Caliente cabin foundation

Although this initially shocked me, I can understand and sympathize with the dilemma many camping parks are experiencing.  Economic hard times over the past few years have undoubtedly caused some people to camp less, and stay closer to home, while parks and campgrounds have experienced increased costs and decreased funding, which have resulted in cutbacks in staffing and services.  Additionally, “Today’s [sequester] Cuts Mean Wide-Ranging Impacts for Parks – and – People around the Country”, writes Tom Kiernan, President of the National Parks Conservation Association, and detailed in the National Parks Conservation Association’s Park Advocate posting of March 1, 2013.  “Funding Discussion Shares Creative Solutions for National Park Funding Woes”, writes Tom in an article for the Huffington Post Green Blog, 3/20/2013.

One solution for some camping parks is to provide cabins to attract new campers who are not ready to invest in camping gear or an RV.  “California State Parks have endured hard times and budget cuts for a number of years now…  Our proposal to revitalize and reopen Tamarisk Grove Campground was selected by California State Parks for a special grant last March… 10 new cabins will be built onsite to give folks an alternative to tent or trailer camping”, writes Kathy Dice, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent, in her “Superintendent’s Corner” of the Anza-Borrego Foundation‘s Desert Update, Fall 2012 issue.

DSC_0020 Cabins nearing completion

As the Agua Caliente cabins are nearing completion, I still have mixed emotions about cabins replacing RV sites.  Cabins are structures that permanently occupy space and block views, especially noticeable in this vast desert setting.*  New cabins in wooded settings, such as William Heise County Park*, seem to tie in better with the surroundings and are less obtrusive.

DSC_0026 SE loop with 7 cabins

Agua Caliente Campground is also currently upgrading its electrical service to include 50 amp power and eliminate the power poles, and plans to upgrade the sewer system.  The plan also calls for new RV sites… eventually.  But as the documentary Surviving Progress* points out, we must make a distinction between good progress and bad progress.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Tricks, Treats, and Trees, Part 2

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

By midweek in the mountains, the cool, drizzly, season of the witch weather broke, and the Safari’s aluminum panels happily creaked and groaned while expanding as comforting warm rays of glorious sunshine lit up the campsite and surroundings with vibrant colors.

dsc_0010-happy-sunshine-safari.jpg

Our spirits brightened as hawks soared high, while wispy clouds danced in the clear, blue sky.

dsc_0024-hawks-soared-high.jpg

Oak trees glowed in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun.

dsc_0073-trees-basked-in-the-sun.jpg

At sunset, Larry made Chile Rellenos en Salsa Verde con Arroz.  (Stuffed peppers in tomatillo sauce with rice.)  See his recipe below.

dsc_0045-chile-rellenos-salsa-verde.jpg

1. Sauté diced onions in a frying pan with previous night’s cooking drippings to deglaze the pan.

2. Add salsa verde (tomatillo sauce) and heat to simmer.

3. Slit a raw chile poblano (aka “chile pasilla” in a Latino market). Remove the stem.

4. Stuff the chile with shredded cooked chicken and shredded cheese. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for the remaining chiles.

5. Place the stuffed chiles in a circle on the simmering sauce. Cover and cook until the chiles are heated through and the cheese is melted.

6. Place leftover cooked rice in the center of the pan, sprinkle with ground cayenne pepper, cover, and steam until the rice is reheated.

7. Serve and garnish with chopped cilantro.

dsc_0048-safari-night-ambience.jpg

Gently flickering votive candles on the lobster sink countertop sent light rippling across the shiny, curved aluminum interior, providing relaxing ambiance as we listened to classical music, such as Mozart’s 3rd Movement Cadenza.  I swung the Nikon D-40 around on the tripod to capture more precious moments (on the lounge top ledge is seen Precious Moments – Larry’s retirement award, the boy holding a basketball in a wheelchair), as Griff , the griffin looked on.  (Larry is a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist.)

dsc_0051-precious-moments.jpg

Now, on to Halloween… and the Greatest Show Unearthed!

Tricks, Treats, and Trees, Part 1

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Our October trip to the mountains was packed with tricks and treats appropriate for this Halloween season.  When we made the camping reservations, NOAA forecasted sunny and mild weather.  Two weeks before departure, we experienced record-breaking heat (over 100°) in San Diego.  One week prior to our departure, the county was being bombarded by lightning strikes setting palm trees on fire as Blue Angels soared overhead.  Santa Ana conditions usually occur this time of year, bringing a warm, dry flow of air from the deserts.  But a cell of moisture was stalled just offshore, as we made our way through pockets of dense fog and sunlight to the mountains.dsc_0026-sun-into-rain.jpgThe trailer was unhitched just in time as the wind picked up and sprinkles began.  We experienced the heaviest rain and strongest wind on the first night.  The sound of the wind roaring through the trees reminded us of the sounds of the surf when we camped by the ocean.  I was glad I recently repaired gaps in some areas of caulking around the Fan-Tastic Fan.  By morning, raindrops were glistening on the trailer, along with a few leaves, and many pine needle clusters were scattered over the truck.dsc_0005-safari-raindrops.jpgActually it rained heavier along the coast, shattering the previous rain record for October 6, set in 1912.  As the skies cleared, we noticed that there seemed to be more sky and less trees than the last time we were here.  William Heise County Park, near Julian (apple pies), CA, is set in the Cuyamaca Mountains and mostly covered with acres of oak, pine, and cedar trees.  More frequent rains this season have resulted in larger acorns, in the living trees.  But we noticed that oak trees are dying.  One of our favorite trees was this massive, native California Black Oak Tree up the hill from our campsite.dsc_0059-great-oak-tree-2009.jpgIts canopy was thinning last year, as seen in this photo, but now it has been reduced to a sad stump.dsc_0015-great-oak-stump-2010.jpgAs I continued my midday walk, the camp host came by in his golf cart and I asked him about the cutting of the trees.  “Yes, they’ve had to cut down about 25 trees this past summer because of some kind of beetle borer,” he said.  “Sad,” I say, “That’s decreasing the value and beauty of this park, and I’m now seeing houses on nearby hills that were once screened by the trees.”  I continue on and noticed a sign posted on the campground restroom building: “DON’T MOVE FIREWOOD”.dsc_0034-dont-move-firewood.jpgAccording to this San Diego Union-Tribune/signonsandiego.com article, “Voracious oak-killing beetle reaches suburban San Diego“, the gold-spotted oak borer was probably imported here by firewood transported from Mexico or Arizona in the 1990s and has killed more than 20,000 oaks, which adds fuel for wildfires, lowers property values, decreases the aesthetic value of parks and communities, negatively impacts the ecosystem (acorns are a source of food for wildlife such as deer, turkeys, and woodpeckers), presents a hazard to campsites (some sites had to be closed), and is costly to contain.  This is part of a larger problem across the western United States and Canada.dsc_0022-hilltop-mansion-revealed.jpgAs Sting says, “How fragile we are“… including Earth and all of its treasures.

About the Author

BILL, along with partner, Larry, were first-time RV'ers when they purchased their custom-ordered 23' 2007 Airstream Safari SE. Bill (a retired RN) and Larry (a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist) enjoy bringing history alive in the area of San Diego, CA.