Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, Arizona: December 18-23, 2021

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Season’s greetings! 

The Adventure Begins

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Unidentified Flying Object?

So, we’re on the US 95 driving through the Yuma Proving Ground on our way to Quartzsite for an overnight stay. We spot this object far away and really high in the sky. It seems to be stationary. If we were anywhere else I would think it was a UFO, but extraterrestrials are too smart to be hovering above this massive US Army installation. Miles later it was directly above us. I’m hanging out the window, being careful not to drop my iPhone, and trying to take pictures of it as Amelia is driving. She says, “Did you see that? It was a sign about the thing in the air.” I was all wrapped up trying to document the sighting and completely missed it. Once you blow by something towing the Airstream, then that’s it, there’s no flipping a U-turn.

But rest assured, the good ol’ internets solved the mystery.

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Tethered Aerostat Radar System

There’s only eleven Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems. They are 208 feet long helium filled blimps and hover anywhere between 10,000-15,000 feet in the sky. US Customs and Border Patrol use them to spot low-flying aircraft that drug smugglers use to bring their drugs into the United States. It can detect activity in distances up to 230 miles. Crazy huh?

The First Stop: Quartzsite, AZ

No judgement here, but Quartzsite is something else. During the winter it’s full of snowbirds, folks living on the edges of society, people just existing, and even nudists. I think it would probably be safe to say a multi-day stay here wouldn’t be our cup of tea, but it’s totally fine for a free one night boondock spot!

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Our one night spot in Quartzsite. The crowds are in the Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA).

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Quartzsite boondocking

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We caught the full moon rising while in Quartzsite and I was such a good boy this year that Santa came early and gave me a Chumba Stella Titanium Singlespeed.

The Next Four Nights

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a terrific campground. We highly recommend it, especially if you can get into the Red-tailed Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk loop. The sites are spacious, have water and electric, no sewer, but free showers. In the dead of winter electricity is a must, even more so this trip since we saw nighttime lows of 24 and 25 degrees 🥶. The Airstream furnace keeps the inside nice and toasty. Another plus, the Verizon signal was super strong! So strong we were streaming shows in the evenings.

Sedona is a scenic thirty minute drive away. There’s no denying Sedona is jaw dropping gorgeous, and the mountain biking is world class, but the crowds! Geez, sometimes it’s a little too much for us, so staying in Cottonwood was perfect. We biked two days in Sedona and twice at Dead Horse. The biking is quite good at Dead Horse, but nowhere near as beautiful as Sedona.

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There’s our Airstream in site 63 of the Red-tailed Hawk loop.

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 The view outside our door

Maybe I’m just old and feeling a bit nostalgic, but I loved this gas station in Cottonwood. Who cares if it costs a nickel more per gallon. A two pump full service island and a two pump self serve island. We opted for the self service. No card swiping at the pump. Just lift the handle and start pumping gas. Then you walk into the office that’s a total mess with deer and elk antlers all over the walls, and pay the man. Our first visit there, I walked into the office and told the old man, “Pump 2.” With a cigarette dangling, he told me, “Great, how much?” “Uh…shit, I don’t know, hold on a sec.” I ran outside and got the dollar figure, came back into his office and told him.

I was really hoping he had an old school credit card imprinter that takes a carbon copy impression of the credit card and requires a signature. But no, he had one of those modern machines that you put your pin in and hit the green button.

Two days later we stopped in again to top off the tank before leaving. I walk into the office, feeling like a local, told the old man, “$35.45.” He definitely recognized me from before and nodded, then grinned. He even chatted me up about how happy he was that the days are finally getting longer.

We had blue skies every day, except of course on the winter solstice. That morning we went to Red Rock State Park for a nice hike. The next five pics are from there.

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Oak Creek

 

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My Ansel Adams winter solstice picture

 

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Arizona Sycamore bark

 

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Do you see the deer?

 

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The best wildlife crossing sign…so far.

 

And finally, some mountain biking pictures of beautiful Sedona.

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Red dirt


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I got in a little over my head on the Mezcal Trail that we’ve biked multiple times. And I have no idea how it happened. Amelia was on the correct line, oblivious to the fact that I was way above her. A couple of Red Bull type riders were also up there. They looked at me, a 61 year old on a singlespeed and said, “Dude, you should turn around.” That was great advice!


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Happy girl!

Instead of spending the night in Quartzsite again on our way home, we decided to drive straight through to San Diego for fear of getting swept away by the pineapple express that was bearing down on California. 461 miles and eight and a half hours.  We got home just in the nick of time. Two hours after unloading the Airstream, the deluge began.

R.I.P. Joan Didion

Tijuana River Valley: November 11-14, 2021

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Kudos to the County of San Diego

Well this slipped under our radar. County of San Diego opened a new campground in April: Tijuana River Valley Regional Park Campground. A few weeks ago our friend Jenny went camping there and told us about it. From our house it’s a mere forty minutes, yet a world away. I know I’m always extolling the virtues of San Diego County, but it is truly an amazing place.

This is the first time either of us have been to this area. To our surprise it’s horse country. Driving into the regional park it seemed like every property we passed had horses and stables, with signs advertising horses for rent and beach rides.

The regional park is adjacent to the Border Field State Park. It’s a large swath of undeveloped coastline. From the campground to the ocean it’s a little more than a mile of open land. The only downside, sewage is a serious problem during and after a heavy rainfall. It all comes from Mexico. The Tijuana River originates in the Sierra de Juarez Mountains approximately 45 miles east northeast of Ensenada, flows through Tijuana, crosses the border and empties into the ocean below Imperial Beach. Definitely stay out of the area during and post storm! All that said, we would definitely come back to the newest county campground.

There are many thankless jobs in this country, but Border Patrol must be somewhere near the top of the list. As one would expect being next to the border, the place was buzzing with Border Patrol Agents, a lot of them were on ATV quads. We saw them apprehend a young woman that was by herself. It was heartbreaking. She had plant debris in her long black hair and her clothes were dirty, as if she had been making her way through the bushes, which were dense. She appeared exhausted and defeated as they loaded her into the Border Patrol van.

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A peaceful morning and by midday there were multiple Northern Harriers flying inches above the shrub looking for prey.


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Across the street from the campground is Spooners Mesa. It quickly rises 370 feet above sea level and offers spectacular views of the Pacific, San Diego, and Tijuana. It accessible only by hiking, biking, or horseback, and of course Border Patrol vehicles. That’s Point Loma in the background.


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Tijuana and the wall from Spooners


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From Spooners, the empty campground on Thursday. You can see our truck and Airstream behind the yurts. The campground was a little more than half full for the weekend.


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Don’t disturb this marker, again on Spooners Mesa.


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The Tijuana River Watershed is quite large.


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The Border Patrol has more high tech equipment for surveillance than you can imagine, but they still utilize the dragging tires trick to spot fresh footprints crossing a road.


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Just in case you didn’t know.


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And just a few miles north is Coronado. We rode the Bayshore Bikeway (Silver Strand) for the first time. Paved and flat is a big disadvantage for single speed mountain bikers. Amelia was so far in front of me it was ridiculous.

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I came across some fresh bobcat scat in the middle of the road one morning. Apparently this is a thing they do, pooping in the middle of a road or trail.


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It’s kind of crazy we’ve never been here.


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How apropos, the parking lot for the Border Field State Park, has a mini mesh chain link fence surrounding what, I don’t know, with really cool artwork and concertina wire on top.


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Bravo!


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Amazing. The roadrunner and coyote are really cool. The lower human leg, now that’s something.


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How about that bone in the middle and the Snowy Plover.


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Amelia loved the detail of the horny toad.


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A beautiful field of Garden Nasturtium about a quarter mile into the Border Field State Park.


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Two cairns and Amelia

Protecting the Western Snowy Plover

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A pretty, late afternoon, direct into the sun shot.

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This unmarked, but we are assuming Border Patrol helicopter, kept flying along the coastline.

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Bullring by the Sea and the Tijuana Lighthouse.

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The wall. On late Friday, October 29th of this year, one woman drowned, and anywhere from thirteen to thirty six people (depending on what news you read) were pulled from the water and arrested trying to swim around the wall to enter the United States.

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On Saturday we rode our bikes to catch a fabulous sunset at Border Field State Park. That’s the Coronado Islands on the horizon.

I’d like to leave you with this song from Rodney Crowell.

Buttermilk Country: October 22-26, 2021

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A section on the third leg of Lower Rock Creek trail.

I had the opportunity to go help my buddy Eric hunt deer in the Buttermilk Country west of Bishop, California. Normally this wouldn’t be a blog post, but I know how much everyone loves beautiful scenery photos!

We stayed in his trailer at Pleasant Valley Owens River Campground. Opening day was Saturday. I arrived on Friday so I could bike one of my favorite trails: Lower Rock Creek. We hunted Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Yes, this was in the middle of the big storm that hit California.

We saw over a hundred does and more than a dozen bucks. Eric was looking for a trophy buck with at least a 5×5 rack, and he wasn’t going to settle for anything less. We saw a few 4x4s and one giant with a wide 5×5 rack but he was out of range. Eric is still up there hunting for his elusive trophy buck.

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The first leg of Lower Rock Creek is out of sight down in the trees.

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I took this pic because it’s one of Amelia’s favorite sections of the third leg of Lower Rock Creek.

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Pleasant Valley Owens River Campground is no frills.

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I slept in the bunk. It’s a tough deal when you get up often in the night to take a leak. It’s even tougher after two beers and a sleeping aid. One night I missed the second step on the ladder and fell like a sack of potatoes. It was a miracle I didn’t crack open my skull or break a bone. It scared the hell out of Eric.

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Sunset

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Amazing morning light

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The yellow Rabbitbrush was vivid.

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Even a color blind guy could see the colors.

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I love the cloud shadows.

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Sunrise over the Buttermilks

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And then Mother Nature treated us to a rainbow.

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Sunday night the temperature dropped and it snowed on the Buttermilks, the White Mountains in the background were white. What a difference a night makes.

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4 p.m. Monday, 8,000 feet elevation, looking down on the Buttermilks and the Owens Valley.

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Eric, he hunts and fishes like I mountain bike…all the time!

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The grand finale. Mount Humphreys, at 13,992 feet it’s the highest peak in the Bishop area.

Navy Seals at Mt. Laguna: August 9-12, 2021

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A Navy Seal candidate in Mt. Laguna.  (Photo from the internet.) 

The Navy Seals do land navigation training at Mt. Laguna! Who knew? We certainly didn’t. It’s the third and final phase of Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal Training. While we were biking we kept seeing young men in full military fatigues with heavily loaded backpacks. One evening two of them were walking through the campground so I asked, “What’s up? What are you guys doing?”  His response was, “Land nav.” Amelia asked if it was fun. The first guy said, “No.” The second guy was dragging and didn’t say anything.  At this point we still didn’t know who these guys were.

We were also seeing super fit guys in dark blue t-shirts. They didn’t seem approachable, so we didn’t really ask them a bunch a questions. Later we found out they were the Seal instructors.

On our last day of riding there was a commotion in the meadow with a Sheriff’s helicopter. We couldn’t tell if it was a rescue or a training. The guy we were talking to while watching the helicopter was very knowledgeable, and we assumed he was just a hiker.  We told him about all the young guys doing land nav. He said yeah, he was one of the instructors. So naturally I asked why he wasn’t in a dark blue t-shirt like all the other guys. His response was, “It makes it too easy for them to see me.” He’s been a Seal for twenty years and answered all our questions. He was one of those guys you could easily talk to for hours. Our brief conversation was quite fascinating.

 

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We are finally at the age where we have a twirly pinwheel! The Meadow loop of the Laguna Campground is very nice. The only downside is cell reception is sketchy at best.

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Nail in the tire!  Buzzkill! It’s such an inconvenience. My muscle mass is definitely diminishing. It was like a wrestling match changing the tire. Nothing like driving around without a spare! At least it wasn’t on the Airstream.

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Mt. Laguna Observatory, established in 1968, owned and operated by San Diego State University at 6,100 feet elevation.

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Gorgeous afternoon, the meadow was about fifty yards from our campsite.

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This cool guy was camping.

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So were these two cool guys.

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Prickly Poppy

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Big Sagebrush, really, I’m not joking, that’s the name of the plant, Big Sagebrush.

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We did the short hike up to Garnet Peak.

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Amelia spotted a Horny Toad on the way up. This little guy was about three inches long.

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Amelia at the summit. It’s only 5,900 feet, but the views are magnificent. We experienced it on a rare calm day. Usually it’s one of the windiest spots in San Diego County.

360 degree views

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California Goldenrod

 

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Mountain Mahogany

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A midnight storm equals hero dirt the next morning! Tacky, not dusty, and the best dirt to ride on.

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Helicopter commotion in the meadow

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Dang! I was going to make a nice slow cooker chili. 😭

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Adios Laguna Meadow

Big Bear: July 12-16, 2021

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Amelia killing it on Grays Peak Trail on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake.

Big Bear, Mammoth, South Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Durango, and Steamboat Springs: they are all touristy little mountain towns with the same cast of characters living a fraught and resentful symbiotic relationship. There are locals, the vacation homeowners, and regular tourists.  Go into the grocery store and you can easily lump everyone you see into one of the three groups.  It’s really obvious.

Big Bear is in the San Bernardino Mountains, about three towing hours away from our house. Yes readers not from SoCal, we have mountains. And they are quite rugged and steep.  The San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains are the two main ranges in SoCal.

And here is where I admit that this is only the third time I’ve been to Big Bear.  The last two times were in the 70s.  That’s what happens when your younger brother moves to Mammoth in the early 80s.  Mammoth became the focal point.  Mammoth folk, including yours truly, looked down upon and even scoffed at Big Bear.

Now at sixty-one years old, looking back, man, we had a lot of dumb notions.

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Or as our friend calls it, Fartin Blats, is where we stayed. It’s actually a really nice National Forest Service campground. The downside is it’s close to the main road, Highway 38, and a long thirty minutes from Big Bear.

Glamour shot and reality. We couldn’t believe how close the dumpsters were. It really wasn’t an issue though since the campground was more empty than full the entire time.

 

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California Primrose: there were a few of these beauties scattered around the campground.

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It looks like a forest to me.

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The Skyline Trail: a popular South Shore ride. All the trails we hit in the Big Bear area were excellent.

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Grinnell’s Beardtongue

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This is the upper part of the Santa Ana River Trail (SART). It was accessible from our campground. Some sections were quite sketchy with the trail eroded in the corners with long steep drops. I was by myself without a soul in sight, so I cut the ride short. I like to think I’m getting smarter in my old age.

Blue Sage: an aromatic plant. Once you got a whiff of it there was no doubt it was a sage.

 

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Drought stricken Jenks Lake: this was a nice mile and a half hike from camp.

 

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Free high pressure hot showers, no dogs allowed.

 

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The showers might’ve been free, but they wanted ten bucks to dump! And that’s after paying thirty three dollars a night. Some smart guy invented this contraption. Once you pay your ten bucks you have sixty seconds to open the sewer cap, so you better be ready or it will close on you and you’ll be S.O.L.

 

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Big Bear Lake view from Grays Peak

Mt. Laguna: June 23-25, 2021

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Sweet single track in Laguna Meadow.

Sometimes we fail to appreciate our own backyard.  We just kind of take it for granted, or perhaps worse, forget about it.

Our local mountains are beautiful, yet this was only our second camping trip there.  That’s going to change.  The scenery is magnificent.  The single track biking trails are fast and flowy.  Mid week the crowds are minimal and here’s the kicker, it’s only sixty miles away! A mere seventy-five minute drive.

We reserved three sites in the Lilac Loop of Burnt Rancheria campground for R, Jen & Ang, and ourselves. It was like the good old days, socializing unmasked.  The five of us ate breakfasts and dinners together, played card games, Chinese checkers, and had a few drinks.

San Diego County, what an amazing place: mountains, desert, beaches, and even another country all just a short drive away.

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Ok, let’s get this pic out of the way before we get to all the beautiful scenery shots. What the heck is going on here? This was on the bathroom stall door. Amelia said it’s an actual thing.

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Site 15, surrounded by Black Oaks and Jeffery Pines.

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A beach bum named R.

We saw more flowers than expected including the Montane Woolly-Star. .

The beautiful and appropriately named Summer Snow flower was in most of the shaded openings and as bright as snow.

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Amelia + single track = smiles for miles

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This memorial plaque is at Kwaaymii Point. Richard M Zadorozny died here in a paragliding accident. There are dozens of memorial plaques, but only a few of them are from deaths at this spot. Of all the locations for stunning views in San Diego County, Kwaaymii Point might just be the best. It’s located on the Sunrise Highway, mile marker 30.3.

Kwaaymii Point video

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Strawberry Moon: the last super moon of 2021

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The land is Cleveland National Forest, so it’s common to see cows grazing in the pasture. Sometimes you just have to be patient while they pass. They haven’t harmed the trails yet, but beware there are plenty of fresh cow patties.

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I went out at seven in the morning for a quick solo ride before we left. It was pristine, chilly, and magical.