A Day Trip to Yosemite & Drive through Tioga Pass in a Snowstorm

Michael, Lara and I had an impulsive brainstorm that we could somehow find a way to camp overnight in Yosemite Valley without a reservation. We spent the morning making an effort to be put on a waiting list and then drove over to the one available spot to park in order to hike up to Mirror Lake.

Once we parked the RV and piled out, the three of us crossed the gorgeous meadow over the lovely boardwalk and headed to the lake. Callie stayed behind in the RV and took a much-needed nap. All the fun and excitement of travel takes it out of her, and the chance to get some sleep mid-morning is a treat for her.

Leaving her safely behind, we meandered along Tenaya Creek and I spent a couple of hours taking photographs and walking through the woods with Lara and Michael. It was a beautiful, crisp afternoon, and because Mirror Lake is no longer dredged and pillaged for its ice like it was in the past, it is more of a puddle than a lake. I was still able to capture incredible, reflective images in spite of the low water level, and felt that the hike was more than worth it.

The view was incredible, with light and shadow passing over the rock formations and changing dramatically with each minute. The leaves on the broadleaf trees were just starting to turn golden in color, and there was a hint of autumn in the air. The path is paved and cyclists can now bike up to a parking area before walking the rest of the way to the lake. Rental bikes are available and a lot of people took advantage of the opportunity.

Once we returned to the RV and made an effort to see more of the Valley, we were entangled in one traffic jam after another. Michael was never able to find a place to park after that, and we decided collectively to head over to Lee Vinning and find a camping site at Mono Lake. Little did I know that Tioga Pass was experiencing an early, fall blizzard and that Callie was going to be able to watch the snow blow past on the dash. She didn’t know whether to be excited or freaked out as the windshield wipers were activated.

In spite of the crowds in Yosemite, it is still a beautiful place to visit. I recommend taking the time to get a reservation though, and I don’t recommend driving an RV around. Take advantage of the numerous shuttles that are available and plan a long day of exploring. It was just too difficult this time to find a place to park, and maneuvering the RV from one spot to the next, became a chore! Fortunately, Michael, Callie had I had visited the valley last summer and didn’t feel too disappointed, and Lara was a good sport about it and didn’t complain.

The Crows in the Oak Trees

While camping at the Monterey Fairgrounds this summer, we would take Callie out for walks on her leash so that she could explore her surroundings. The oak trees were protected and couldn’t be cut down and had grown quite massive in size. The crows would fly in as a flock of 50 or more to feed on the trees in the late afternoon.

Dusk was just starting to fall and the light was fading. You could hear them long before you saw them. We would look up at the sky at the sound of caws in the distance and see specks of black dots moving toward us like a darkening cloud of locusts. Soon they would descend on the oak trees as a mob and peck at the bare branches and the plump acorns in a frenzy of feeding. The acorns would crash down noisily onto the aluminum roof of the livestock showing pens, and plop with a crunch on the dried up leaves at the base of the tree.

The sound was deafening and the birds would be screaming and shouting at one another the whole time they fed. It sounded like a version of happy hour for these birds, and it was really quite the sight to behold. The clicks and caws and screams could be heard all over the campground and there was a special alarm call when they spotted Callie! Three crows, in particular, stayed put and kept looking at us from up above in astonishment that a cat was down below. When we got too close, rather than fly away in alarm, they shouted obscenities at us and hurled insults like a gang of misbehaving children. As Callie passed underneath their particular tree, I swear they made an effort to bomb her with debris. Callie would have liked nothing better than to climb the oak tree and give them a piece of her mind.

At the end of the day, not having packed toys for Callie, she had to make do with a paper bag in which to work out her pent-up aggression!

Sailing on Alfresco

Last summer we took the RV through Washington and the ferry over to Vancouver Island to introduce Callie to sailing on my brother Tom, and his wife Frances’s, catamaran. Tom built this boat when he was in his twenties, and Alfresco is still seaworthy after 40 plus years. Callie took to sailing like a duck to water and my fear of her going overboard were never realized. She loved boating and being on the water. It was very exciting when we were under sail, but Callie showed little fear. When we dropped anchor, she explored every nook and cranny. Only once did she slip while heading to the stern and when that happened, she made sure to land on the deck and walked away with tail high in the air, as if nothing had happened and she had planned it all along.

Yakima Valley Wine Country- Washington State

Yakima, in the beautiful state of Washington, is known for having survived Mount Saint Helen’s eruption in 1980 and burying the region with nutrient ash. The positive consequence of this is that the soil is extremely fertile and anything that is planted, flourishes. Wineries have produced some of the best grapes for both red and white wines. The Columbia Gorge and Columbia Crest Chardonnay are one of my favorites, but I loved just about every wine I sampled. I am of the old school and love the taste of a bold, oak flavor. This only happens when the wine is stored in oak casks. The latest trend is to keep the wine in stainless steel, but I do not like the crisp taste that stainless steel produces. Fortunately for me, many Washington State wineries still favor the oak.

Vallecito Stage Station

Saturday morning Michael and I biked over to the Vallecito Stage Station- about 4.5 miles across the Anza- Borrego Desert State Park along S2 toward Julian. The weather was perfect after several days of wind and clouds and a drop in temperature.

The building that is left standing is a historical landmark and a reconstruction (1934) of the original adobe structure built in 1852. This was an important stop on the first official transcontinental route serving San Diego/ San Antonio (jackass) mail line that ran from 1857-1859. It later became The Butterfield Overland Stage Line and the southern, emigrant caravan route.

Biking over from Agua Caliente on a relatively cool day, left me in awe of these early pony express mail carriers and the bravery of both horse and rider. It is a desolate desert with sparse water, but maybe there was more of it 150 years ago.

The adobe structure is low lying and the walls are thick to keep it relatively cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Acacia trees, ocotillo, sage, and creosote dot the landscape along with cholla and barrel cactus. The sand along the wash is deep and must have been very difficult for the horses and mules to gallop across while carrying rider and heavy bags of mail or worse, pulling covered wagons.

I walked around the structure and smiled at how tiny the doors and windows were and what a welcoming sight it must have been after a long, stressful ride across the desert. Wild honey bees were swarming the damp ground searching out moisture and the green belt and wash must have been a welcoming sight after many miles of galloping across the scorching hot, arid, desert.

Biking back was somewhat easier because it had a gradual downhill slope, but we had a headwind that evened out the playing field. We had to get back to our campsite and move before noon because on the weekends, and especially Saturdays, Agua Caliente becomes a party campground. The pools are reopened at night and the campground was completely filled. The ranger was kind enough to place us in site # 68 because I believe Michael was polite and not demanding when asking if we could stay a couple more nights.We were placed in a spot that is not rented out and saved for volunteers or if another camper has to be moved. It was very nice of the ranger to provide this campsite for us. It has a beautiful and unobstructed view of the valley with no one in front of us.

So we will stay 2 more nights before heading back to Borrego Springs. The weather has been wonderful and Callie has gone on several walks over to the Marsh Trail and all around the campsite. She spooked at a cottontail that was bigger than her as it raced passed us and under the cat claw shrubbery. It made Callie just a little bit nervous. I had to soothe her with reassuring words that bunnies are herbivores and would not hurt her. I listened to coyotes howling last night and owls hooting early this morning and love camping in this campground.

View from site #68

Agua Caliente Regional Park

In 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza was the first European to pass through what is now called-Agua Caliente. Kumeyaay Indians had known of the thermal springs and abundant water source long before the explorers, and in more recent times, prospectors, soldiers, and pioneers benefited from this unique desert oasis.

The water source supports plant and animal both and as you hike the numerous trails, you will see mesquite, willow, Washington Palms, catclaw and acacia. Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes make this area their home along with a variety of birds that depend on the life-giving water.

Agua Caliente spans 910 acres and has over 140 campsites with full or partial hookups along with tent camping. There is a caravan area that can accommodate large parties and multiple picnic areas for day use. At this time, there is no phone or internet service and this adds to the overall sense that you are out in nature and away from the trials and tribulations of politics and world news.

There are 3 naturally fed pools and the indoor pool does not allow children so that you can soak your weary bones without worrying about being splashed and the noise level is kept to a low whisper. It is not unusual to see people soaking in the hot water and periodically dozing off. It is very relaxing and soothing to the joints.

The campground is located in the Anza- Borrego Desert, about 100 miles east of San Diego, California. The seismic activity shaped the Tierra Blanca Mountains and created the spur of the Elsinore Fault that runs underneath the park. While hiking the Moonlight Canyon Trail, you will notice vertical layering of decomposed granite that use to rest horizontally. It is a little unnerving seeing what vertical thrust can do to a flat service.

Michael and I biked both the Marsh Trail and Moonlight Canyon Trail. Neither hike was strenuous and well worth it. Both trails take you to the natural springs where you see the Washington Palms and acacia and desert willow flourish.

We are parked on site 100 which looks west and has a spectacular view. Sites- 64, 68, and 67 are coveted view sites and it is ironic that our first time we visited Agua Caliente, we were able to nab 64. When we asked this time whether we could have it and didn’t have a reservation, the ranger laughed. I think 99, 98 and 97 are great locations too. We are farthest away from the pool, and some campers may want to be closer, but I cherish the peace and quiet and a view of the sunrise and sunset.

Wonder Cat

I have had two distinct moments in my life where my cat has risked death or injury to warn me of potential danger. The first time was when my daughter was a preschooler and was playing outside in a sandbox in the backyard. I give myself credit for recognizing that my cat’s behavior was odd and doing something about it, but never the less, my cat was a hero and held her ground and stayed between a rattlesnake and my daughter.

I went over to investigate because my beautiful black cat named Fanny, was crouched down low to the ground and while staying perfectly still, she was staring intently at the bushes. When I knelt down to see what she was looking at, I came face to face with a 6ft rattlesnake crouched and ready to strike. I jumped up quickly and grabbed Fanny and my daughter so that I could put them safely inside the house. I then called 911 and asked what I should do? The operator called the fire department and 5 men in full armor showed up 15 minutes later.

I assumed that they would relocate the snake, but no, one of the firemen chopped it’s head off with a shovel. I was taken aback by that, but the times were different and not as much emphasis went into the lives of wild animals in your backyard. They handed me the rattle, which I promptly gave to one of my nephews, and served them lemonade and then thanked them profusely for their heroism. As they pulled away in their great big fire truck, Lara and I stood by the curb and waved them off. I then went back to Fanny and praised her for being such a good kitty.

So last night as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed Callie on the floor in a crouched position and she was looking outside at what I thought was the black and white cat. Usually, she jumps up to her loft Kong bed, but this time she was crouched under a chair and looking outside very intently. I patted her and closed the curtain and didn’t think much of it until she moved over toward the bed and stared under the bed. When I asked her what she was doing, she gingerly went over to the bed and started to reach out and tap something ever so cautiously under the bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move that was the color of the carpet and it darted into the shadows. I thought that it was maybe a cricket or spider, but thought it best to know for sure and went to go get a flashlight.

When I bent all the way down and laid on the floor, I stared at what was maybe a piece of carpet that had been pulled up. I aimed the flashlight directly at it to see it more clearly and tried to focus on what it could be. It was dark under the bed and the beam of the flashlight just barely lit up the creature. When Callie once again went up and tapped it ever so quickly, I realized that it was a 2″ scorpion and I yelled for Michael to come and help me so that we could kill it! With Callie on one end of the bed and Michael and I on the other end, Michael was able to smash it with the tip of a broom.

Once again, I would rather allow animals to live out their lives, but when it comes to the desert and boundaries, they can’t come into my house. Everything in the desert has survived because of fangs and venom and I do not want to be the recipient of a bad encounter taken by surprise. The tarantula was a whole other story though, and I was happy to escort it back out into the desert. But scorpions, ants, killer bees, cockroaches and other such pests need to go.

So last night was special and I truly have a wonderful cat and am so appreciative that I paid attention to her. She clearly didn’t want me going to bed until I checked out what she was guarding. She was not going to let the scorpion out of her sight. She knew it was dangerous or at the very least, a pest that would give me a painful sting and she wanted to protect me. Thank you, Callie! I went to bed and marveled at what an awesome cat I have and slept soundly and in peace for the rest of the night. I will still walk around barefoot, but will always heed Callie’s subtle warning!

I did some further research on scorpions and while most have a sting comparable to a bee, the Arizona Bark Scorpion can be lethal. It is flesh-toned, loves to invade homes and are small- less than 3″. That sure sounds like the scorpion Michael killed yesterday. I am not sure if they travel this far south, but with climate change, who knows? Better safe than sorry.

The Locust and the Scorpion

I am trying to bike around 20 miles every day so that I can eat whatever I want. I love to eat and can’t stand dieting. Today we did 23 miles and biked past one of my favorite sculptures by Ricardo Brecera. He lives in Perris, California but got his start as an artist here in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park.

His sculptures range from mythical dragons and beasts to bighorn sheep, camels, desert tortoises, sloths, javelinas, horses, sabertooth cats and many more. As you bike or drive around the outskirts of Borrego Springs, you can’t help but notice them.

We biked all the way to Henderson Canyon, Seley Ranch, (Seley Ranch offers free samples of organic- ruby red grapefruit) Coyote Canyon and around the golf course again. It was too early for the bighorn sheep to descend onto the golf course. Now I can pig out and eat ice cream and whatever else I want to eat!

Biking 20 Miles a Day

Early this morning, Callie and I woke up to the sound of quail clucking to each other while eating olives that had fallen on the ground under her beloved olive trees. It was windy the night before and the ripened olives were the perfect food for all that came scavenging. I have seen mountain bluebirds, roadrunners and ground squirrels relishing them too! The nights are once again crisp and cool and the mornings are clear, with a sky that is a deep and beautiful, powder blue.

Now that the weather has cooled off in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, Michael and I are averaging 20 miles a day on our road bikes. When it gets even cooler, we will go biking- off road to Coyote Canyon. It is paradise for us once again, but for the Bighorn Sheep, they must risk their lives to climb down the mountain to get to the desert floor so that they can graze on the newly seeded golf course at De Anza Country Club. They have run out of the native foliage and are forced to graze on the newly seeded grass. It doesn’t hold much nutrition for them, but something is better than nothing. They don’t come down to graze once the rain returns.

The 20-mile bike ride takes us out to Henderson Canyon, Coyote Canyon, Seley Ranch, Borrego Springs Road and back to De Anza. Our last couple of miles puts us in direct contact with the Bighorns at De Anza Villas. The sheep have to cross a road that has little traffic on it to get to the course, but even then, they are very skittish and fly across the street at the least hint of danger.

It is usually the collared ewe that steps out first and surveys her surroundings before the rest of the sheep follow. Once the main part of the herd is settled down and are grazing, a few of the younger male stragglers, continue their descent. They have to keep an eye out for “Bob” the dominant ram to make sure it is alright for them to feed. Bob has a broken horn that distinguishes him from the other males and looks much older. I have been watching him rule his harem for at least 3 years now. Some of the other rams look like they are going to challenge him this year though. They seem almost as big as him now, and their horns curl around too!

Once I am finished watching the bighorns, we turn around and continue our ride by doing a figure 8 back to the house. The entire bike ride takes us about 2 hours because I stop and take photographs. Yesterday we watched a bobcat chasing a cottontail near Seely Ranch. As soon as the bobcat saw us, he abandoned the chase and ran back into the dense tamarisk underbrush. We see all kinds of wildlife now that the weather has cooled off and we can once again enjoy a bike ride without getting cooked from the sun.