Wildflowers of Rancho Bernardo: April 15, 2021

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California Poppies

This year the desert was a complete bust for wildflowers. Much of the Southwest is in a severe drought.  San Diego’s rainfall is below average for the season.  However, we still received enough rain for a pretty decent wildflower display…if you know where to look!

All these pictures were taken on a 1.4 mile hike in the San Dieguito River Park by Lake Hodges in Rancho Bernardo. And of course, with my trusty iPhone 7.

Enjoy the beauty of nature!

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Goldfields

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Field of Goldfields

Bushmallow

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Purple Owl’s Clover

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Golden Yarrow

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Baby Blue Eyes

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Johnny Jump-Up

 

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Prickly Popcorn Flower

 

Bush Sunflower

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Purple Nightshade

 

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California Sun Cup

 

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Caterpillar Phacelia

 

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Deerweed

 

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A dying Blue Dick.

 

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Common Sun Rose

 

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A lonely Cream-cup.

 

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Bush Rue

 

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Fiddleneck

 

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California Milkweed

 

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Yellow Bush-Penstemon and my big paw.

 

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Wild Canterbury Bells

 

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Here’s the last one! Something I’ve never seen before, Chinese Houses.

Spring Break ’21 Amboy Crater: April 1-2

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Amboy Crater

Friends have been asking us, “Where’s Amboy Crater?” My smart-ass answer is always Amboy! It’s actually south of the I-40 between Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. You get to drive on Route 66 for a little bit! It’s a nice free one night stop.  It’s also a really good for stargazing.  All the clouds cleared out and at 10pm it was a spectacular celestial display.

On our way home we drove through a little community called Wonder Valley. That was a real eye opener….

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It was just us and another guy in a little Casita trailer. We never even said hello to each other. He was definitely throwing off the “I’m not social” vibe.

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From the Airstream it was a half mile on road to the trailhead. Then we did four miles on a dirt path getting to and from the crater as well as exploring the inside and the rim.

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Make no doubt about it, it gets hot here in the summer.

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A closer view

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It reminded us of Craters of the Moon National Monument.

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The ubiquitous piece of toilet paper 😢

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Inside the crater

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This put a smile on the heart rock collector’s face.

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We walked half way around the rim. There are rumors that occasionally a Marine chopper pilot from Twenty Nine Palms will land in the crater at night.

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Western Fence Lizard

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Looking east from the rim.

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Finally, a decent sunset!

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you freight trains run all day and night, so keep that in mind before spending the night. It didn’t bother us though.

Spring Break ’21 Furnace Creek: March 28-April 1

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Amelia, awestruck by one of the slots in Sidewinder Canyon.

Pro tip: If you are visiting Death Valley be prepared to drive a lot!

We boondocked twenty miles east of Furnace Creek at a spot known as “The Pads.”  It used to be a company mining town until 1995 when Death Valley became a National Park and mining operations ceased. There are over forty concrete pads, where I’m assuming singlewide trailers used to sit. There’s also a huge pad where the clubhouse must’ve been because it’s next to a swimming pool filled with dirt. At times it felt haunting knowing that people used to live their life there. I would rate “The Pads” as a great boondocking spot. The only negative is zero cell phone reception.

At this stop we experienced a real wind event. On Monday evening while waiting for the moon to rise, Amelia’s phone blasted a weather alert noise. It startled both of us, especially since there’s no cell reception. Amelia grabbed her phone, and on her screen was: Tormenta de Polvo (dust storm).  When she tapped it thinking she could read the rest it disappeared.  We had no idea why it was in Spanish.

Thirty minutes later the wind became strong and the mountains to the east were shrouded by a huge dust cloud. We collapsed our chairs and table, brought in all our shoes, and hunkered down inside the Airstream. It was noisy. Anything that could rattle did. We ended up closing all the vents. The wind continued until sunrise.

We went outside to assess the aftermath. Our large patio mat was still staked down but covered in dirt and small pebbles. The chairs only moved a few feet. However our recycling bin was two hundred yards away stuck under someone else’s trailer!

Once we saw a person emerge from the trailer, Amelia went over to get the recycling bin and pick up as many scattered cans as she could find. That’s when she met Thelma. There were two gals traveling together and they referred to themselves as Thelma and Louise.

Thelma was probably in her late fifties, super chatty and proud of her 2001 Suburban.  After they exchanged pleasantries Thelma says, “I hope this doesn’t offend you but I’m a deplorable.” God bless my non-political wife, she had no idea what a deplorable was.  Then Thelma launched into a diatribe about stolen votes.  “Millions of votes were sent to China, Germany, and Iran.  Can you believe that?  I Ran!!” She quickly calmed down and said, “I don’t blame people for not knowing. The problem is everyone gets their news from the same major networks. You have to dig deep to get the truth.”

Finally, Amelia was able to escape. An hour later Thelma and Louise hitched up, drove by our spot, honked and waved.

You meet the most interesting people while traveling!

 

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We got a picture of a tourist at the fancy sign!

 

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, quite a bit smaller than Eureka, but still beautiful.

 

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Footprints

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There were a bunch of little basins between the dunes were water would collect and dry out.

 

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Zabriskie Point

 

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We did the seven mile Zabriskie Point, Badlands, Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch loop hike.

 

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The beautiful entrance to Gower Gulch.

 

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Here’s a perspective shot on the tall canyon walls.

 

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Bend over Rover! The station is unmanned on Tuesday and Wednesday. We were there on Tuesday. I inserted our debit card, did all the steps to begin fueling, but the regular unleaded 87 wasn’t working. Nothing came out of the nozzle. The other travelers were experiencing the same issue. They were out of 87! We badly needed gas, so I reinserted the card and starting pumping the unleaded plus 89. It got to $1.34 and stopped! The 89 was all gone. On to the premium unleaded 91. I inserted the card and it was denied, because it was already inserted twice! Shit! Good thing I carry two credit cards, especially since Amelia forgot her wallet at home. I inserted the new card and tanked up with the premium for $105.00.

 

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Love the tortoise sign on the road to Dante’s View.

 

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Dante’s View of Badwater Basin

 

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What a trippy place! It just has a feel to it.

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Early morning at Badwater Basin.

 

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Be smart and wear sunglasses. It is a bright white.

 

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Mosaic Canyon. The walls are polished marble.

 

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Towards the end of Mosaic it gets real tight.

 

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We drove up to Grotto Canyon. It’s the most technical canyon and as we expected, it was over our head. But not all was lost, on the drive out we saw three Bighorn Sheep. A ram, ewe, and lamb. We saw the lamb go underneath her mom and latch on to a teat. Eventually they all sprinted across the road. This is the ewe and lamb.

 

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A good look of “The Pads” during the evening. Our Airstream is the furthest one away.

The swimming pool

 

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Definitely not a super bloom year in Death Valley! There were hardly any flowers. This is a Desert Stingbush.

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Velvet Turtleback

Our favorite hike was our last one; Sidewinder Canyon. Amazing would be an understatement. It’s a wide canyon with six side slot canyons. Some of the slots just keep going and going. Here’s some pics.

 

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Oops! We had a casualty from the dust storm. The little Playmate cooler was stuck under the Airstream. I didn’t see it and completely forgot about it. As we were leaving there was a loud noise. Amelia put on the brakes. I looked under the Airstream. Shit! I felt horrible. Amelia has had the cooler since she was a teenager and had the nickname AMP for Amy Marie Perkins.

Spring Break ’21 Lone Pine: March 25-28

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Snow blowing off the top of the Sierras

Wind! Wind! Wind! I swear there’s more wind nowadays and it’s stronger. It’s got to be climate change, right?

On our drive Thursday we had high wind warnings from the Inland Empire all the way to Lone Pine. The Airstream does pretty well in the wind, but it’s still very stressful towing. The wind howled the entire time we were in Lone Pine. On Friday morning the iPhone said the wind should be a little less on Saturday. So, we juggled our itinerary and did Alabama Hills on Friday and the Eureka Sand Dunes on Saturday. Who wants to be in a sandstorm exfoliating all your exposed skin and depositing sand in every orifice? No thanks!

If you haven’t been to the Alabama Hills, it’s this bitchin rockscape between Lone Pine and the base of the Sierras.  It’s just a few miles west of Lone Pine and easily accessible. We were flabbergasted at the amount of people camping.  Apparently the cat is out of the bag.  It was quite shocking.  In years past there were only a handful of campers. Unfortunately, most of the masses we saw were not in self-contained rigs. Which means there was a lot of visible toilet paper on the ground, in the bushes, and flapping in the wind. Amelia is not a fan of people leaving behind toilet paper; nothing gets her on a bigger rant than that.  “Dig a hole people!  If you aren’t going to bury it, then pack it out!  Come on ladies, try air drying and stop leaving toilet paper where people go hiking!” Amelia on her rant, “All true backpackers and tent campers have shit shovels.”

To the best of our recollection, Saturday was our fourth visit to the Eureka Sand Dunes. It is in what I like to call the new part of Death Valley.  I thought Death Valley had been a National Park forever. I was wrong. In 1933 it was declared a National Monument. It wasn’t until 1995 that it became a National Park, and expanded by 1,200,000 acres, which included Eureka Sand Dunes. Back when the dunes were just BLM land, my brother was out there paragliding, at least once.  That’s how I first heard about the dunes.

Rising 680 feet above the dry lake bed at their western base, the dunes are the highest in California and second tallest in North America. The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado are the tallest.

Anyhoo, we lucked out. The weather was perfect with only a whisper of wind on the dunes. We were surprised at how many people were there, especially considering how remote it is. Being surprised by crowds is becoming a theme. Then again, it is Spring Break and folks have been pent up dealing with the pandemic. But I’m blaming it all on the internets and social media!

Next stop, Furnace Creek area of Death Valley.

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Once again we stayed at the Boulder Creek RV Resort. You can see our truck and Airstream in the middle of the row. Someone started a little pet cemetery in the dry bed.

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Walking the cemetery you can feel the love and heartbreak the humans had for their animal friends.

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We couldn’t really make out the faded writing, but it looks like Cricket the Cat got ran over.

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If you haven’t driven through the Alabama Hills yet, do it!

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Amelia on the crazy rockscape.

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Super Woman!

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Peek-a-boo view

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Some folks might say it’s being loved to death, we think it’s being disrespected.

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Lone Pine Peak on the left, Mt Whitney on the right.

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When entering from the north end you don’t get the big fancy sign that all the tourists stop at to get their picture taken. This is also the start of sixteen miles of washboard dirt road to the Eureka Sand Dunes.

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A very deceptive picture. The dunes are a lot bigger than they seem.

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Amelia following my foot steps

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Sand dunes are beautiful.

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The obligatory artsy shot.

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Old man Harris at the top!

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Every time we’ve been there we’ve been buzzed by a fighter jet. I swear you can see the pilot! You can see the jet in this pic.

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Last Chance Range as viewed from the top of the Eureka Sand Dunes.

Hey Everyone!

I’ve updated an old post, but because of a WordPress quirk it doesn’t send out an email to all my followers, so this is my work around. It’ll be the post below this one, titled The Stadium. Please check it out and watch the video. Thank you!

The Stadium: February 28, 2021

For any sports fan in San Diego this is emotional

The post below originally was published on September 26, 2016. As we all know the Chargers left, and as an ultimate insult they moved to Los Angeles. That was the last straw for me. I have completely abandoned the NFL. The first season without watching the NFL was a little tough, but I’ve since not missed it one bit. I don’t even watch the Super Bowl. Screw the Spanos family. My friends and I were all planning to go to the last event at the stadium, a final farewell, but it was not to be, instead it is one more thing the pandemic has taken away of us.

The good news is they are building a new appropriate sized stadium on the same property for the San Diego State Aztecs.

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Qualcomm stadium is a dump.  The Chargers might stay or leave, who knows?  But the stadium is most certainly a goner.  It’s hard to fathom it’s home to an NFL franchise.  It’s an embarrassing eye sore to America’s Finest City.  It’s unfortunate the Aztecs are stuck playing there.  It hasn’t always been a dump.  The steep downward trajectory seemed to begin when the Padres moved into Petco Park in 2004.  Petco is beautiful, new, clean, and full of modern conveniences.  The stadium is ugly, old, dirty, and has no conveniences.  It has been in limbo for years.  It is neglected, unloved, and past the point of no return on all the deferred maintenance.  It will be strange to drive through Mission Valley and not see it.  Seeing the stadium always conjures up memories.  If the stadium is no longer there will the memories and tales diminish or grow taller?

San Diego Stadium opened in 1967 on 166 acres of city owned property.  It was built for less than 28 million dollars.  That was the heyday of the multi-purpose stadium movement, of course now each sport needs its own home.  In 1980, the name was officially changed to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, aka The Murph.  In 1997, the naming rights were sold to Qualcomm and the stadium became know as the Q.  That deal expires in 2017.  It would be fitting if Waste Management or EDCO acquired the naming rights the remaining years.

Amelia’s parents went to the very first Padres game at the stadium in 1969.  I’ve only been going to the stadium since 1974.  I’ve seen it all, Padres, Chargers, Aztecs, Holiday Bowls, KGB Sky Shows, and concerts.  Not to mention tailgating memories, wrestling friends on the asphalt, and jeering Dodger fans.  More stories than I can remember, and some that I can’t share.

In the mid 70s, a general admission ticket to the Pads was somewhere around two dollars. We’d wait until the 3rd inning, then sneak down to the field level seats.  Attendance was always sparse, except when Randy Jones pitched.  Then the stadium came to life, watching the lefty induce ground ball after ground ball on his way to another complete game victory in a mere 90 minutes.  This was also the era when the KGB Chicken was hatched.  And who remembers the Tuba Man?  Many times he would be better entertainment than the product on the field.

This is going to sound unbelievably crazy: in the early 80s they would let you bring your own booze into the Pads game.  It had to be in a plastic container or some dumb rule like that.  We would stop at 7-11, buy a couple 12 packs of Coors Light and a couple gallon jugs of water.  Pour out the water, right in the 7-11 parking lot, and fill the gallon jugs with beer. And then just stroll through the turnstiles.  For real, this is how it was!  Eventually someone came to their senses and figured out they could make a lot more money by squashing that policy.  But of course after years of being able to do it, everyone was upset with the policy change.  So naturally everyone would try to sneak beers in.  One ingenuous friend, who shall remain nameless, hollowed out a small boom box that we would use to smuggle in beers.  And for the most part the ushers would turn a blind eye, except for one guy that was coined the banjo player.  If you were in his section, good luck fooling him. The stands were full of characters.  And some of the vendors were outright kooky.  There was this one vendor who sold newspapers.  Once he sold out his supply he would take a victory lap around the stadium with arms up in the air.  Everyone would give him a standing ovation.  This would happen every game!  It was the game.

Then in 1984, all hell broke loose.  The town was electric, finally a winner.   The Pads beat the Cubs and were going to the World Series.   Words can’t truly describe that year.  We lost to the Tigers, but what a year.

14 long years later, we had the ’98 team and another World Series trip.  Amelia and I were lucky enough to attend every home playoff game and the one World Series game at the stadium.  Without a doubt, our best team ever to date.  Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Caminiti, Finley, Carlos Hernandez, Leyritz, Greg Vaughn, Flannery, Wally Joyner, Quilvio Veras, Chris Gomez, and Kevin Brown to name a few.  And the future hall of famer, Bruce Bochy, was the manager.  It was an incredible high.  The town was in love with the team. The NY Yankees swept us.  And celebrated on our field.  But the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen happened.  As the Padres were leaving the field they received a standing ovation, as if they had won. The players could hardly believe it.  They were showered with love.  It was an emotionally charged moment that practically brings me to tears recalling it.

It was reminiscent of January 15, 1995, after the AFC Championship game, Chargers beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, we were going to the Super Bowl!  A huge spontaneous welcome home party was held at The Murph late that night.  They opened up the stadium and 70,000 showed up.  Interstate 15 was a parking lot.  People were parking on the side of the road and walking to the stadium.  Seating was a free for all, but my buddy was working at the Union-Tribune and had an employee ID card.  So we got into the press box and sat there.  It was one big cheering love fest.  When Seau took the stage, with his family, the place went bonkers.  He gave a great speech.

I just laugh when all the pundits say SD is not a sports town.  They point to all the fans from the other teams in the stands.  Of course, there are a lot of fans from the other teams, this is San Diego, who doesn’t want to visit?  Why not take a mini vacation to San Diego and see your team play.  And you have all the transplants, still clinging to their old hometown teams.  Trust me, San Diego has great fans, especially when you give them something to cheer about.

A funky thing about the multi-purpose stadiums is in the fall when baseball is still being played and football begins, the dirt infield stays, so they play football with a big dirt patch on the field.  This was the case on September 10, 1978.  The infamous date of the Holy Roller game against the hated Raiders.  I was in the stands that day.  It was brutal.  I have a bad track record with Chargers games.  I also witnessed a couple of depressing playoff losses.  The Marlon McCree fumble in 2007 and Nate Kaeding’s choke job, missing three field goals in 2010.

One of the most memorable Chargers game I attended had nothing to do with the actual game.  I couldn’t even tell you who we played or if we won.  Of course we were drinking, and we were watching the cheerleaders with binoculars, instead of the game.  I’m sure we were all saying stuff.  But our friend’s wife,  who’s a well known hot head, and whose head gets even hotter when she’s drinking, overheard her husband say something like “I would hold anyone of their hands” (that’s the PG version since this is a PG blog).  Somehow she held it together until after the game, as they were at the bottom of the escalator, bam!  She sucker punched him.  A bullseye, an instantaneous bloody nose.  Guess what?  They aren’t married anymore.

The Marshall Faulk SDSU years were really fun.  And the current Aztecs are exciting. Donnel Pumphrey is the real deal.  A Heisman Trophy candidate.  Unfortunately the SDSU Aztecs are stuck with Qualcomm Stadium as their home.  45,000 attendance in a stadium that holds 70,000 equals a bad atmosphere.  Too bad, the Aztecs deserve better.

It seemed like the Beach Boys played the stadium a million times.  I was at either the first or second Rolling Stones Farewell Tour.  Now here we are in 2016, some twenty plus years later, and The Stones are playing yet another final farewell tour.  Guns and Roses just played the Q last month.  No, I was not there, not even a free ticket would have brought me out.

The mother of all concerts, especially for a 19 year old was on August 5, 1979.  The line up was Shakin Street, UFO, Pat Travers, Blue Oyster Cult, and Cheap Trick.  Before the show even began we felt like pieces of burnt toast after spending the night on the banks of the San Diego River like the homeless, so we could be one of the first to enter.  My recollection of the day is spotty.  I do remember there was an incident with some Birkenstock sandals.  And the bass of Blue Oyster Cult is still rattling my cerebellum.

It’s going to be strange when they tear down the stadium.

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Padres Memorabilia.

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House, lit like a Christmas tree on our driveway in PQ. This was after the final NLCS game in ’84 when we beat the Cubs.  He was lucky enough to be there.  He drove all the way to our house honking his horn.  The entire town was complete bedlam.

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House’s tickets. Only $25 in ’84!  Game 5 1998 never happened unfortunately.

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The late 90’s was a great time to own a restaurant named Fins!

Photos are more plentiful in this era because everyone has a smart phone.  I don’t have too many pics of all the time spent at the stadium.  This next set is from the ’98 World Series Game.

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Mother and daughter baseball fans!

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Pre marriage, unfortunately I don’t have the red vuarnets anymore, but I still wear that Hawaiin shirt!

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Happy Tailgating.

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Donna and Jonna.

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Bruce Bochy.  I still can’t believe that shitass Sandy Alderson pushed Bochy out the door.

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Donna and Amelia, pals since kindergarten.

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Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago at the SDSU Cal game with Bill and Marianne. Aztecs won!

Vallecito County Park: Presidents’ Weekend 2021

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Pardon my analogy, but Vallecito County Park is the plain Jane little sister to Agua Caliente County Park.  She’s the older, smoking hot, sexy sister that gets all the attention. Only four miles separate the two San Diego County campgrounds. Agua Caliente has full hook-ups, hot spring fed pools, a clubhouse, showers, and bathrooms. Quail are everywhere and occasionally borregos stroll through the campground. It is busy, full every weekend, and noisy.

Vallecito is not without amenities; it does have bathrooms and showers. It is never full. On the weekdays it is often completely empty. There’s nothing wrong with plain Jane, actually she’s quite nice.

We almost didn’t go anywhere this Presidents’ weekend, but Amelia had some friends staying at Vallecito, so that swayed us.  We also took comfort in the fact they take the Covid seriously. We rarely do any in person socializing.  Every time we do, it feels more like a slap in the face, instead of fun.  A not so subtle reminder of what we are really missing during the pandemic.

It’s been so long since we’ve been in the Airstream. It was embarrassing how lame we were, I won’t go into details, but my god we were like newbies.

A summary of the trip would be really windy, but fun.  We did a couple of five-mile hikes. The second one, Rainbow Canyon, I highly recommend.  It is a spectacular canyon with at least ten dry waterfalls, which were all climbable.  We spooked up a barn owl coming and going. Anytime you can see an owl in the daylight it’s a special day. Heading back down the canyon we were battling 40 mph plus winds and Jumping Cholla.  Amelia kept saying it was like being at the top of Mammoth Mountain; right after the gondola shuts down because of high winds.  The Cholla pieces were everywhere; thankfully it only ended up on the soles of our shoes and not our skin!

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2013 Tundra & 2012 Airstream, looking good!

We found this rock on our first hike. Silly me, I thought this whole painting and putting religious and inspirational words on rocks was a Covid thing. While walking around our block I can’t go three houses without seeing one. The VC Rocks people are from Valley Center and have been doing this since 2017!

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Watching a spectacular sunrise is better than anything on the boob tube.

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Jumping Cholla

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Fishhook cactus

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The Desert Lavender is just starting to bloom.

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I’m two dry waterfalls above Amelia.

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Arizona Chalk Dudleya

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The Shrubby Deervetch was also just beginning to bloom.

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Amelia descending one of the dry waterfalls.

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Rocks like this give Rainbow Canyon it’s name.

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Beautiful evening skies are better than anything you can stream on Netflix, Hula, Prime, etc. except for maybe Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny. God bless the Canadians!

Caroline Street

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Just like back in the day at Fins A Mexican Eatery, every Friday is Jimmy Buffett Day for me.  Out of twenty-two Buffett CD’s in my library I select five and play them on shuffle.  Lately Havana Daydreamin’ has always been in the mix.  What a terrific album full of awesome songs.   Every time Woman Going Crazy On Caroline Street comes on, I flashback to my one and only trip to Key West.

Many moons ago I dated a flight attendant.  She worked for Continental Airlines and was based in Houston, and of course she was blonde.

We took a trip to Key West.  She knew the crew on the flight from Houston to Miami. The first class cabin was not full so we got upgraded.  I have no doubt I looked and acted like a guy that had never flown first class. 

We were both excited about the drive from Miami to Key West on the Overseas Highway.  We reserved a convertible from Avis.  When we got to the lot they had a red convertible waiting for us.  I would not get into the car because it was red! Of course, she thought I was ridiculous, and she was even a little pissed. Apparently, she either hadn’t seen or wasn’t a fan of Kurt Russell’s greatest movie, the 1980 classic, Used Cars.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s the official trailer. 

There’s a character named Jeff who will absolutely not get in a red car, because it’s bad luck. 

Key West was a blurry blast.  We hit all the tourist spots, took part in the sunset ritual at Mallory Square, and most importantly, we found Caroline Street!

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Caroline Street, Key West, probably 1990. I have no idea what I was stuffing in my pie hole, but I was definitely hammered.

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A1A

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Not a red car!

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Many moons ago.

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I hope everyone cracked a smile and maybe even got a little chuckle out of the story. Please be safe. I’m looking forward to hugging everyone I know when we get through this hell and I’m not really a hugging guy.

Back to Borrego: October 23-25 of the horrible year 2020

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Maybe there is hope

The desert is a tonic for the soul. A place where one can be alone with his thoughts. The wide open space clears your mind. It is calming and invigorating at the same time.

Between the pandemic and Amelia’s foot surgery we haven’t been anywhere since February, and that was when we got booted from our favorite boondock spot in Borrego, Rockhouse Rd/ Dry Clark Lake.

So we decided to treat ourselves for the weekend and stayed at a la-di-da place: The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course. It was nice and probably only 25% occupied, but I doubt we’ll be back. It’s just not our cup of tea. 

Four months post surgery and Amelia is still recovering, so it was a low key trip. We walked around for a little bit in the desert, and that was about it. But you know what, it was still nice to get away.

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Site 305
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This Texas Ranger Sage at the resort was so full of bees you could hear it buzzing from ten yards away.
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Back from our little outing
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Palo Verde Wash. All day Saturday the sky was spectacular.
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Another cool sky shot
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Lush green fairways are such a disconnect in the desert.
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F you! I just love this type of roadside art.

A short story

This is the set up to a classic story from the winter of 85/86.  The mid 80s was the heyday for the ski industry.  My brother, Eric, aka EJ, worked for Mammoth Mountain. He was the head cook at the Mid Chalet and also lived there in the basement during the ski season. There were four rooms in the basement, which housed quite a cast of coed characters. Those stories are for another day.  Martha, the lady that ran the operation, lived in the penthouse on top of the Mid Chalet.  The basement has long since been closed so no one lives there now.

We all had season passes and kept our ski equipment at my brother’s place. We would go to Mammoth all the time.  It was just a matter of grabbing some clothes, your ditty bag, and jumping in the car.  Three hundred seventy five miles one way was no big deal.  The typical trip would be arrive late Friday night, ski all day Saturday, party hard, ski all day Sunday, get home late, be up early Monday morning and off to work.  We would think nothing of doing it.  Now I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Below is the short story.

The quiver                                                                                                                        

 “You college guys think you’re so smart.”

It’s a pitch-dark moonless night, south of Lone Pine on the 395. House and I are making another weekend run to Mammoth.

“Shit! I think we’re out of gas,” I shout over the music.

“Are you kidding me?” House asks.

“It must be the headwind we’ve been battling.  I thought for sure we could make it to Lone Pine. Five more measly miles and we would’ve,” I say.

House is pretty even keeled and doesn’t really get excited about things like I do. His response is a calm, “Well get this Rabbit way off the road.”

“I guess we are hitchhiking into Lone Pine. I can just see my brother now, shaking his head when he hears this.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s going to shit all over of us,” says House shaking his head.

We stand beside the Rabbit, thumbs out for every set of headlights we see approaching, and miraculously in less than ten minutes a trucker stops.  We run down the road to where the semi stopped.  We reach the passenger side and he scoots over and rolls down the window.

“Car problems, boys?”

“We ran out of gas,” I tell him.

“Well jump in, I’ll take you to Lone Pine.”

We climb into the cab. The trucker is an old skinny guy with a cigarette dangling from his lip.  I’m guessing it’s a Marlboro, at least that’s what the red hat he’s wearing says.  It’s dead silent in his cab, finally he says, “You boys been drinking?”

“Yes sir, just a couple of beers,” House replies.

“That’s not very smart.”

Of course we were drinking, it’s the high desert! Wanting to change the subject I ask. “What are you hauling?”

“Freight,” is his curt reply.

The cab becomes dead silent again. Lone Pine can’t get here soon enough. Five minutes seems like an hour. Finally he drops us off at Lee’s Frontier Liquor, Deli & Gas.

We buy a gas can, fill it up, and loiter around the pumps, gas can in hand, taking turns asking people if they are heading south, and if they could give us a ride to our car a few miles away.  Most give us a good looking over and say, “Sorry.”

House charms an older couple with his politeness and they agree.  Fred & Mabel, they couldn’t have been nicer.  She said they have grandkids our age and hoped someone would do for them, as they were doing for us.  Old Mabel is quite the talker. It seemed like we heard their entire life story in the five minutes, as if she were reading us their obituaries.

They retired to Bishop after decades in Tehachapi. He worked at the prison for thirty years and she taught elementary school.  Both had a comfortable retirement with their pensions. Their son, Virgil, followed Fred’s footsteps and is a prison guard in Tehachapi. Unfortunately Virgil is divorced, but it was amicable.  Their two grandkids are both going to school in Santa Barbara, the oldest at the university and the younger at the city college.  That was their life.

At our car, Fred pulls over to the southbound shoulder.  We wish them luck, say our good-byes, then run across the 395 to our car.

“Holy shit! Mabel could talk,” I say.

“Yeah, nice couple, but thank god it was only a five minute ride.”

We tank up at Lee’s and two hours later we are at the Main Lodge. We park, grab our duffel bags, and go to where EJ leaves his snowmobile for us.  I lift up the seat and there’s the key, right where it always is. I fire up the rig and we sled up the hill to the Mid Chalet.

“Should we even tell EJ we ran out of gas?” House asks.

“Might as well, it’ll give him something to laugh about,” I say.

We wake him up and tell him our tale.  He just shakes his head and spews at us, “You college guys think you’re so smart.”

He turns off the light and keeps repeating, “Fucking college guys,” and laughs every time he says it.

House and I sit in the dark, drinking Coors, and laughing every time he does.

Other than running out of gas, it was the typical ski weekend in Mammoth.

Two weeks later it was time to go again and House’s turn to drive. Per usual, we stop at the Outpost at the 15 & 395 to piss and buy some Coors.  We are listening to Jimmy & The Mustangs, The Beat Farmers – Tales of the New West, and a heavy dose of REM Reckoning.  We both can’t get enough of               “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.”

The moon is nearly full and we are flying down the long decline on the 395 with Ridgecrest off to our right.  The headlights on the 14 are coming into focus.  House’s Acura makes a knocking sound.  He turns down REM and looks at me.

“What?” I say.

Then it knocks again and I feel it this time.

“Shit something is wrong with the engine,” he says.

“Dude, I can see the Brady’s Mobil Station, coast as long as you can.”

Finally the road flattens and we slow way down so House pulls off the shoulder.

“How far to Brady’s do you think?” he asks me.

“Shit that’s at least four miles away. Are you sure we just aren’t out of gas?”

“Maybe.” 

“What do you mean maybe?” I say. “We are either out or not.”

He says, “I can always make Lone Pine easy. This thing runs forever on E.”

“Fuck, we are out of gas, two consecutive trips.  My brother and all the guys in Mammoth are going to laugh so hard they are going to piss and shit themselves.”

“Well.”

“Well, I’m staying with the car and drinking Coors. You’re hitchhiking,” I say.

Some kids gave House a ride in their K-5 Blazer to Brady’s and were nice enough to drive him back.  We both decide to face the music and tell my brother the truth.  I think the fact we ran out of gas on two consecutive trips made his whole year. He was so happy about it.

All weekend, everywhere we went, and everyone we ran into he told the story. They all laughed. He was saying things like, “College this.” “Smart guys with college degrees.” “How much did those degrees cost?” “Did you skip the class on how to read a gas gauge?” And on and on.

Every trip thereafter, all winter long, everyone wanted to know if we ran out of gas again.

That was one long ski season for House and me being the butt of the joke.  Still to this day I couldn’t tell you how we ran out of gas on two consecutive trips to Mammoth.

The End

Back in the day, everyone wasn’t running around with a phone in their back pocket that also took pictures, so I don’t have a lot of pics from then, but here are a few.

The old gondola line from the Mid Chalet to the top.

 

EJ in the Mid Chalet kitchen

 

A trophy from a local ski race he won.


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I bet you didn’t know there was a driving range at the Mid Chalet!