Queen of the Dash

We made the epic journey back to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park yesterday after 2 long days of driving. On Friday we experienced heavy traffic due to the New Year’s holiday, and even the diamond lanes were congested because families were on the move.

Callie was the QUEEN of the dash and takes her position in front of me as soon as the RV motor starts up with a roar. Her desire to be a part of the action is so adorable. She is such a good sport about being on the road from morning to dusk and takes it all in feline stride.

It feels good to be home, even if all the off-roadies have kicked up so much dust and sand, that it looked like a major storm was blowing across the dry, desert sand. My sister Gayle and her family are camping at Ocotillo Wells over the weekend, so we are going to check out what kind of fun she is experiencing sometime later today. She has 2 sons and a husband who love to off-road. We are in opposite camps when it comes to enjoying the desert. Gayle is also introducing her 2 dogs, Murphy and Mazy to a life of camping, so it will be a treat for me to see how they are handling all the commotion too!*

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is divided in two by the off-roadies who want to roar over the sand in dune buggies at blinding speed; feeling the wind in their faces and the thrill of wide open terrain below their wheels, and those that admire the solitude and quiet of the desert, but try to have as little impact on all the plants and animals that call this place their home. Both groups must share this unique dessert, and this weekend, what with mild temperatures, and it being a 3 day holiday, it has brought an unusual amount of human desert enthusiasts to my usually quiet, desert home.

* On a footnote- Michael and I were able to visit my sister and her family on Sunday, and we found them in Ocotillo Wells after searching for about an hour. The dust was so thick that you couldn’t see very far, but the smiles were huge on their faces, and it was obvious that they had had a fabulous time. Families everywhere were having fun in spite of it being a very different crowd than what I used to. It was a good experience for me to see the other side of having “fun” in the desert!

A Bike Ride to 17 Mile Drive

You can’t go wrong biking along the pristine Pacific Coastline through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California. It is free to cyclists and a perfect way to spend an entire afternoon.

There is a long history to this area starting in 1602 where it was mapped by Spanish explorers. Pebble Beach was left to a widow by the name of Carmen Garcia Barreto Maria. It has changed ownership several times and was eventually purchased at auction for 12 cents an acre by David Jacks. Fast forward to the future, this beautiful coastline was acquired by the Cypress investor group in 1999, which was led by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Ueberroth.

Biking along the coast you come across such attractions as Cypress Point, Bird Rock, Point Joe, and Lone Cypress, an image that has been trademarked and cannot be photographed and the photographs used commercially. That bothers me to no end! You bike along both the coast and the golf course and meander through neighborhoods that are obscenely wealthy. I try to look the other way and focus on the natural beauty of the place and not dwell on the disparity of the working class and the rich.

Michael, Fred and I headed out from the Monterey County Fairgrounds and took the bike trail all along the coast to the 17 Mile Drive. When we biked past the wharf, we turned out to the Coastguard pier to check on the sea lions that make so much noise with their barking and arguing for a prime spot in which to rest. The quiet harbor seals have claimed the sandy beach next to the Stanford Research Center, and they can be seen rolling along the shoreline as small waves toss them back and forth across the sand. These seals look so well fed that when they bask on rocks with their webbed feet up in the air for balance, they look blown up to capacity and can hardly move.

We stopped frequently at Pacific Grove and Asilomar to enjoy and appreciate the view. The coastline is rugged and there are jagged rocks with white sandy beaches. The wildlife is abundant and somewhat tame because of the wildlife reserve status. Who wouldn’t want to live there? We saw harbor seals basking, sea lions barking, a red-tailed hawk sitting on a rock. And when it took to the sky, it was harassed by crows, (at least I think it was a red-tailed hawk) even if it didn’t have the distinctive red tail, it may be going through a dark phase, correct me if I am wrong, lots of pelicans, cormorants, seagulls, whale plumes, and the list goes on.

It was a beautiful sunny day with a moderate temperature of only 63, and this at the end of December, and with no wind. We hung out all day and ended up eating a late lunch at The Fishwife which is close to the entranceway to 17 Mile Drive. The food was delicious enough but not as good as The Sand Bar and Grill, but it did have the benefit of being less expensive too.

After 26 miles of biking for 6 hours on and off, we trudged back up the hill to the fairgrounds pretty wiped out and windblown, exhausted but happy. Our cheeks were rosy and glowed with health from a day in sunshine and out in the elements. My eyes are fried though! I promised myself I would limit texting and photography today. So much for that promise!

And since I share this blog equally with the subject of travel and our princess cat- Callie, her life as a traveling cat couldn’t be finer. She sleeps a lot during the day, goes on several walks with her leash and harness, and rides on the dash when we hit the road. Her litter box fits neatly in the bathroom all the way in the back of the RV, and her food and water are placed on the shower bench for her enjoyment. This is really a perfect life for her and she adds so much to the overall enjoyment of our trip.

The coastguard pier provides a place for sea lions to rest.

The harbor seals are smaller and have found sanctuary at the Stanford Research Center

Stages of a Sunset

On Christmas evening, and after a lovely meal served by the City of Monterey Food Bank, Michael, Fred and I biked over to Monterey State Beach to watch the sunset tuck itself in for the night. It took some negotiating to find a spot where we could all sit and not have a building in the way, but once we did, we settled down and enjoyed a quiet moment.

There were not that many people at the beach, but the few that were, had plump little dogs panting after them and enjoying some free time out on the sand. The waves rolled in on a direct trajectory and would crash all at once in a long line that covered the entire stretch of the beach. A large flock of what looked like plovers wheeled and spun right over the water and reminded me of a swarm of flies. They flew in unison and would all land at once for just a second before flying off again.

The sunset was not colorful, but rather filled with silver and gray and unfolded softly. Heading back on our bikes in the fading light, and with me, all dressed in black, was a little unnerving, but we managed to get back to the fairgrounds in one piece.

The True Meaning of Christmas

We have currently camped out once again at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, because unbeknownst to us, Christmas is a very popular time for RVing. We wanted to stay at New Brighton or Sea-cliff in the Santa Cruz area, but everything was filled up.

Callie loves it here and as I write, the murder of crows is cawing and cackling overhead high up in the oak trees, and Fred and Michael are listening to the Warriors game in his RV. During the game, Michael and I took a quick break and ran over to the “free Christmas meal” provided by the city of Monterey to those in need. Restaurants and local chefs team up to provide a hot meal on Christmas Day to those less fortunate. We were immediately humbled by the large turn out of both hungry people and those helping the hungry.

The Community Holiday Dinner meal was served in one of the large warehouses on the other side of the fairgrounds, and Michael and I practically ran over there because it was almost 2 pm and that was when they would stop serving. The dinner was sponsored by the committee named after this event and the Food Bank for Monterey County. This special event has been hosted for 25 years and Thanksgiving for a whopping-35! We were told about the event from Ray, the host of the RV Park because he has been going to it for years. We were met with raucous Christmas music being played live by 2 musicians dressed up in Santa Claus outfits, and about 100 people or more eating merrily, while others were being served by volunteers lined up to help.

Smoked turkey, a roll with butter, dressing, yams, broccoli, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, donuts, cupcakes, coffee, and sodas were placed on long tables and served with enthusiastic and kind volunteers ready to pile up your plate with as much food as you wanted, and the food was absolutely free to those in need!

There were also tables filled with gently used clothing that people could pick through and select whatever they wanted to keep. Jackets and warm sweaters, shoes, and socks, pants and shirts for both men and women. There were a fair amount of homeless people pushing their carts with all of their belongings in them, and opinionated dogs guarding the carts. Many of the homeless appeared to know one another and were talking and laughing amongst themselves.

We were served our holiday meal and fit right in with most of the crowd, but we were more fortunate in that we could leave a donation and didn’t need free clothes or food. I also tried to compliment as many of the volunteers that I came into contact with and thanking them profusely for giving up their time over Christmas to help. This is what Christmas means to me, GIVING, and I was so happy to see this side of humanity being played out with dignity and respect toward the poor. Next year I want to be one of those helping to serve.

Pinnacles National Park Campground

Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it became a National Park in late 2012 when President Barak Obama passed legislation and signed it into law on January 10, 2013. It lies about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and is considered part of California’s Coast Ranges.

The park is located near the San Andreas fault line, and the geology of this area has had a hand in creating the unique rock formations that the park protects. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the fault has split a section of rock away from the main body of the extinct volcano and moved it almost 200 miles to the northwest. The pinnacles are believed to be part of this ancient rock formation because of the unique breccias that are found at the Neenach Volcano. Seismic activity is frequent in the park and the United States Geological Survey maintains two seismometers.

The wildlife is abundant, with 13 species of bats, prairie falcons, California Condor, coyote, skunk, wild turkey, gray fox, quail, and cougar. While camping there overnight, a flock of at least 14 turkeys rummaged among the fallen acorns all around Fred’s RV. I didn’t see a Tom but watched as one large and seemingly older hen kept a close eye out for the rest of them, and she appeared to call all the shots. If she let out a gobble, they would all take off in unison at surprising speed. They look so prehistoric and have long and powerful legs that can easily outrun a human. The turkeys are also quite vocal and would talk to one another constantly as they popped their heads up in search of danger. Quail were active too, and we saw a gray fox, mule deer, and the incredible California Condor when we hiked up to the pinnacles!

The campsite itself was spacious and we got the senior discount of only $18.00 per RV. What a bargain! There are no sewer hookups, but electricity is a must because of the extreme temperature variation. All the water faucets were frozen solid when we got up the next morning. Fred camped under a massive oak tree across from us, and while we watched the turkeys and quail rummage next to his RV, golden colored oak leaves fluttered down all around them. It was a beautiful sight to behold, with the weak sunlight filtering through the old and gnarled branches, and the leaves dipping and circling delicately, before falling silently to the ground.

I loved Pinnacles National Park, and our hike to see the condors along Condor Gulch Trail was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We didn’t stay but one night though due to the cold. Apparently, it is best to visit the park in the spring and fall.

Callie also thoroughly enjoyed watching the turkeys milling about, but only in the safety of our cozy RV dash and the front, look-out window. These birds were way too big for her to fantasize about capturing.

Stairway to Heaven

I had the good fortune to visit Pinnacles National Park on Friday, and after spending a chilly night (it got below freezing) we headed up the Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook and further up about 7/10ths of a mile in search of the California Condor. I have always been in awe of this prehistoric bird and felt so privileged that I was able to see them in the wild.

The California Condor is the largest North American land bird, and it became extinct in the wild in 1987. The San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo took in the last remaining birds, some say 22, others 27 in total, and developed a breeding program to reintroduce them back into the wild. Various components were responsible for their decline, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, power lines and Golden Eagles were the main culprit.

Contrary to most birds of prey, the female is smaller than the male and when the male reaches sexual maturity at age 6, he will seek out a female and they will mate for life. The male can have a wingspan of up to 10ft, and as we watched them soar over the cliffs, this became obvious. We witnessed them from far away, soaring so gracefully above the pinnacles, and these incredible birds could be seen with the naked eye. They have a lifespan of 60 plus years and are once again, with the help of programs designed to support their survival, are living in the wild.

This condor lacks true vocal chords, so can only hiss and make pathetic noises. They are eerily quiet and because their wingspan is so large, barely flap at all once a bird has become airborne. The California Condor is black in color, with white striations under the wing. These markings flash a bright white when they turn and bank, and it is this flash, and their immense size that separates them from the Turkey Buzzard. The male’s head ranges from pale pink to a deep orange in color once he is ready to mate. The legs are pale gray and appear white when flying, and hang straight down until the condor reaches a high enough altitude to begin soaring.

While we watched 3 condors taking off from a precipice not far from the trail, they flapped their gigantic wings in an attempt to take off. I was able to get a good glimpse of their comical faces as they veered away from us in a graceful circle, climbing higher and higher up into the sky. Fred thought we might have threatened their nesting site, and that it was a mated pair with a juvenile learning to navigate life among the pinnacles.

This hike was a true A+ for me and I highly recommend it. There is a fair amount of vertical climb, but I didn’t find it that challenging. We saw deer, quail, a gray fox, jays, woodpeckers and at least 9 condors. I recommend hiking in the early morning hours because of the heat. Even though it was freezing the night before, and very chilly when we first started our ascent, it became uncomfortably warm with our jackets and gloves on later in the day. By the time we were heading back to our respective RV’s, Fred, Michael and I had stripped down to shirts and rolled up our sleeves. Bring plenty of water and binoculars are a good choice too.

Callie was able to hang out in our awesome 24ft RV and nap while we hiked. This is such a good life for a cat who loves adventure and to travel. The dash becomes her really big screen TV!

Two condors can be seen roosting on the top of the pinnacle ledge to the far left.

Our Stay in Morro Bay

We have been in Morro Bay for almost a week already, but I haven’t been able to post because I ran out of storage space and needed to register again. I love blogging but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I spoke with my daughter who said I should upload my videos to YouTube because they are taking up too much space, and the support guy from WordPress named Kevin Jones, recommended I create a website with unlimited storage but would cost more money. My daughter had the more sensible solution, for now, I am only blogging for pleasure and it isn’t a business, so keeping it fun and simple wins out.

Morro Bay has been beautiful and it actually rained today which will hopefully help with the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara. It has been raging for over 2 weeks now and is the largest wildfire in the history of California. It breaks my heart to see so many homes lost and forests scorched and burned to the ground.

Michael, Fred and I have been biking every day and biking in Morro Bay is just so fabulous. The trails are well marked and when you are forced to be on the road, the drivers are very respectful. Yesterday, we biked all the way to Cayucos from our campsite at Cypress Morro Bay RV Park and walked out onto the pier. We also biked to the Rock, to the high school, and then over to the Preserve and The Strand. It was a fabulous bike ride and all three of us enjoyed it very much.

Earlier in the week, my brother in law joined us and the four of us stayed out most of the morning, and well past the early afternoon. There are so many places to eat along the Embarcadero, and you can watch the otters as they groom themselves and the pelicans while they dive for fish. Just park your bike right alongside you as you enjoy a meal of delicious fish and chips outdoors in the golden sunshine.

I recommend Bike Shop Morro Bay for any of your biking needs. Dave is very helpful and considerate, and Michael ended up buying me a Raleigh mountain bike because my Marin was too large for me. Fred has a Stump-jumper and we are all equally matched now. Michael will try out the Marin for awhile to see if it suits him and I just love the Raleigh. It is fun for me to bike with Fred and Michael. Who would have ever thought I would be biking with 2 guys?

Tomorrow we are leaving for Pinnacles National Park and it is supposed to be gorgeous there too. Fred is our official guide and Callie adores him. It is working out wonderfully and caravanning is perfect. If any of us gets into trouble- we have each other’s back.

California is Burning

We hit the road again yesterday morning with our good friend Fred, he in his Winnebago, we in the Icon, and headed up the coast to Morro Bay. Callie took her seat on the dash of the RV and off we went in search of adventure. Leaving Anza Borrego Desert State Park for the real world is always a bit of a shock. It is so quiet and surreal in the desert, and driving into traffic and crowds is both exciting and annoying.

Passing through my deceased parent’s retirement city of Ventura was horrific, and words cannot describe the total devastation of much of the outskirts of this beautiful, coastal town of flowers, gardens and palm trees. The family house borders Foothill Blvd, and this is the main street that separated the neighborhoods from the lush and native, chaparral foothills for which it was named. California had an exceptionally wet winter last year, and this led to ample fuel for the fires to come.

Arroyo Verde Park was a verdant green belt that many families and our family visited often. We shared boisterous picnics together under the shade of mature oaks and pines and our children grew up playing in the swing sets and sliding down the slide. My family often hiked to a particularly majestic old oak tree that we fondly called “The Wishing Tree,” and all 7 of us sisters and 1 brother would climb high up into her welcoming branches and silently send out a wish or a prayer, for the cosmos to observe and to acknowledge. It is all gone! Burned to the ground.

The fire has stormed Carpentaria and Summerland now, and the 101 is charred on both sides of the highway. Rows of palm trees are scorched and blackened, and a reminder of just how “massive” this fire is as it continues to burn! The Thomas Fire has taken a firefighter’s life and is still only 20% contained. The firefighters are exhausted after spending more than a week attempting to save people and their homes. It is raging away from communities now, as it burns unchecked into the wilderness. The Santa Ana winds are expected to pick up again today, which will make it hell for everything in its path. All the wildlife fleeing for their lives and the plants anchored in place, this is a nightmare of reality.

While driving through Santa Barbara, miles and miles of beautiful, coastal California is blackened and charred, and the sky is still very smokey. I saw drivers with gas masks on and cars had their lights on in the middle of the day because the sun was darkened a deep, blood red. It looks like a war zone in Toro Canyon, with heavy smoke still billowing up along the mountainside.

We made it to Morro Bay in the late afternoon as the sun was just starting to set. We are camped at Cypress Morro Bay RV Park. This is one of my favorite campgrounds of all time. It is clean and spacious and we sit in a quiet neighborhood with a view of Morro Rock. The streets are lined with festive Christmas lights and unusual twinkly lights that sparkle in a distant tree, and look much like tiny fireflies blinking on and off, in the darkening twilight.

It is all so peaceful for now, and as I write, I can hear the fog horn calling out it’s melodic warning to sailors and ships out at sea- while the sea lions are barking to one another, obtrusively and comically in the hazy mist. The sun is just beginning to rise and another surreal morning has begun. My wish and prayer for today, in spite of the loss of the majestic oak tree, is that the fires be contained and that California starts to heal itself soon. Innocent people have lost their homes right before the holidays, the 32-year-old firefighter that gave up his life, the wildlife, and vegetation that have been burned to the ground, may this start a conversation on climate change, and that our response to this unique planet should not fall on deaf ears any longer!

This is a conversation that needs to be addressed! Let us try to come together and do the right thing, a scientific solution that will help heal the many who have been affected and displaced, some who have been harmed, and all who have lost their lives. Let this be the moment that change begins. Prayers and wishes are no longer enough to save this beautiful and fragile planet.

Earth Wind and Fire

It has been a difficult time for Southern California this past week. The fire up in Ventura, California is where my parents spent their retirement years. They are both gone now but left the dream of a botanical garden a reality by donating funds toward its creation. They are founding benefactors and will someday have a plaque on the third tier of the trail leading up the hillside. On the plaque will be the words- BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED! lovingly embossed for all to see as they hike. I try to live by this motto and am applying it to my own life as I live in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t always easy to bloom in the desert! The plaque is still in storage and the gardens are far from finished. Earlier this week, fire consumed the infancy stages of this dream garden and destroyed much, much, more in its wake.

One of my parent’s rental houses succumbed to the flames and neighbors and friends fled for their lives in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens will hopefully someday be rebuilt, but the damage to Ventura and neighboring Santa Paula is horrific. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and over 200 square miles scorched to the ground. The fire is far from contained and is now roaring toward Ojai and Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile south in Bonsall, the Lilac Fire is raging and bore down on San Louis Rey Downs, a thoroughbred horse training facility. It has killed many horses in its wake as it burned out of control yesterday afternoon. It started in the early afternoon and crossed over the 15 freeway and barreled down the 76 at a staggering pace. The horses that died were mostly trapped in barns and stalls and couldn’t escape. Hundreds of horses were let loose in hopes of surviving the horror, but because they are such pampered, sports animals that are frequently hand walked, many panicked, and stampeding occurred. As herd animals, some ran blindly towards the smoke and flames instead of away from them. Del Mar Fairgrounds has taken in over 1,000 animals and a day of mourning was scheduled for today at Santa Anita and the Del Mar Racetrack because of all the horses lost- possibly 47 or more!

The dry conditions of Southern California and the infamous Santa Ana winds contributed to the overall perfect storm. These fires are still burning out of control, but the winds have hopefully died down. The rains that came last year produced a bounty of foliage which has dried out and becomes fuel for the raging fire.

And to top it off, Borrego Springs has been experiencing a series of earthquakes that have rattled the house and my nerves when it shook 4 times in less than 24 hours. Is Mother Earth sending out a message that the “big one” is on its way?

When are we going to acknowledge climate change, and most importantly, that it is human-induced!? What is it going to take as a country to recognize that we have a responsibility to this planet and to our children and that we need to curb our gas house emissions? It is too late for those beautiful horses and to all the people that have lost their homes. But let us please try to find common ground and do something about climate change before it is too late for all of us!

Callie in the meantime is doing what cats do best, sleeping the day away and getting herself ready for another road trip. We are planning on taking off again some time next week. Be safe dear readers and take care of yourselves during this holiday season.

Rutting Season for the Big Horns

A couple of mornings ago, while finishing up the last leg of our 24-mile bike ride, Michael and I paused to allow 2 bighorn rams cross the road and onto the De Anza Golf Course. At the end of the summer, and because the sheep have run out of foliage and water, they are forced to come into contact with humans and graze on the green in the morning hours. There is a herd of at least 30 now and the rams that are not part of the main group, head down separately and are much more aggressive. Instead of crossing the road, this particular ram marched over to Michael with a glare in his eyes, and if I hadn’t intervened with a hiss to startle him, he would have charged. Michael wanted to know why it took me so long? He was clipped in and had nowhere to turn. They were less than 7 ft apart and the ram wasn’t showing any signs of being shy. I was debating on what to do and thought that a noise was better than a visual. So I hissed like I would with a horse, and he flinched and took off at a trot while butting the other ram in frustration. It is rutting season and hormones are raging. We continued home with Michael telling me he could hear him breathing! They deserve our respect.

When I am posting on my blog in the wee hours of dawn, Callie is by my side and her attempts to distract me from my writing- WORK!