I am one of seven sisters that was raised as a catholic and my parents wanted a large family. My brother came first and seven sisters later. I am smack in the middle and my parents were sure I was a boy, a brother for Tom and that I would be named John. Well it turns out I was a girl and my name is Joan after the Saint, Joan of Arc.

We celebrated the second to the youngest sister’s 60th Birthday up in Morro Bay and went zip lining in Santa Margarita to get in touch with our wild side. There was wine tasting afterwards at Ancient Peaks and I have to tell you, they had some spectacular wine. Apparently the soil holds oysters the size of soccer balls and this leads to an interesting mineral deposit that the grape vines love.

So all in all, I have a really cool bunch of sisters, and one sister in law to fill in the gap, and I am feeling nostalgic as it is 3 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It was a memorable get together because we are all aging gracefully and have gotten closer. I am really proud of all my competent, outstanding women that just happen to be sisters too! COW for short. Life has been challenging for all of us but we have fought the battles with integrity.

This morning we are heading to Vegas with Callie to meet up with our daughter. Another adventure is brewing!

Mudslides on the 101

I wrote about the horrific fire in Ventura, California which was named the Thomas Fire a little over a month ago. It is where my parents lived before they both passed away. I am getting ready to head back up to Morro Bay from Anza- Borrego Desert State Beach for a Sister reunion- ( I have 6 sisters) and will have to take the 101 if it is reopened tomorrow. Mudslides have killed a dozen people and the freeway has been closed for a 30 mile stretch. I may have to take the 5 North.

Heading up Montezuma Grade with the wind howling and clouds roaring past, I turned around to see a beautiful rainbow shimmering in the distance. It made the trip up the hill worthwhile. I will keep my readers posted and will update tomorrow on whether the 101 is opened or not. This is a difficult time for Southern California!

Callie is staying home with Michael for the time that I will be away. We are planning a trip to Las Vegas as soon as I return.

Mountain Bluebirds

In the fall and winter, Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is visited by the mountain bluebird. This medium sized bird is an insect eater and comes down from higher elevations in the winter to escape the cold and to find food. We have a flock of at least 60 birds that pivot and swoop and enjoy my birdbath with almost total abandonment.

They are hunted by the sharp- shinned hawk, who is an extraordinary flier and is one of the fastest hawks that prey on songbirds. Because of this, there are always lookout bluebirds hanging out in Callie’s beloved olive tree just in case a hawk is spotted. If they sense danger, you can hear an alarm call go out and they scatter in all directions in an explosive blast of feathers and chirps!

I have placed the birdbath so that Callie can admire them from her perch on the windowsill, and so that hawks will not be able to make a clear cut pass over the bath. If a hawk were to hone in on these lovely birds, the lookout birds would see the hawk before it became a threat and send out an alarm call!

And as you can see, they love taking baths and because they are so boisterous in their wing flapping, I have had to fill the birdbath up every day or it is emptied quickly by all the splashing in the late afternoon.

Callie can just about taste these delicate morsels on the wing, and her tail twitches and jerks in anticipation of a meal, totally NOT within her reach!

Quiet by Day- Wild at Night

Oh the joy of a quiet day of solitude, and a good book to read. I stayed cuddled up with Callie under a white, handmade quilt from my deceased mother and read most of the afternoon. Callie took it upon herself to take advantage of it, and slept curled up by my side. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed it so much. There is nothing quite like a good book to read. All was perfect until night descended, and it was time for me to sleep. Since Callie had slept all day, she had insomnia during the night, and that translates into me not getting much sleep.

But she is such a sweetheart about waking me up, and asks ever so gently for attention. First there is a delicate tap of her paw on my face, and with just he slightest touch of one claw extended. Once she sees that my eyes are open, I get the chirp and a meow of “Hello, are you awake?” Her eyes are like soccers and she is cold, and only wants the warmth of my body, with some attention thrown in on the side. Because I toss and turn so much, caution is in order about finding a safe spot to curl up in. Of course this takes some time, and she paces back and forth and in a circle, before settling down by my side with a contented sigh.

Once she finds her sweet spot, she lets out with an explosive purr and little chirps of gratitude that make me smile. By now, I am wide awake and have eyes like saucers, but at least she is warm and happy, and starting to fall asleep. It is hard to stay mad at her though!*

Fortunately for me, I am retired now and only have to do whatever it is that I want to do for the rest of the day.

Callie is a cat that needs constant stimulation. She is not a couch potato and prefers a life of action. When we are on the road, she is entertained by all the activity and can look out the window on the dash. I also take her on frequent walks. She sleeps much better, and mostly through the night when we are on the road. Once we arrive back home to our desert house, the first 3 days or so are heavenly because we are all exhausted and need the rest. But after 3 days, Callie wants action again.

I will have to start dragging her out in the bike basket again. Riding in the basket is a mixture of both fear and excitement for her. The last time I took her out, I forgot to put her in her backpack first, and while not paying close enough attention, she jumped out and took off running. The backpack had provided just a little more support and comfort. and she was able to duck down into it if the scene whizzing by was too much for her. I didn’t handle the situation very well myself, and panicked, which only made the situation worse. Fortunately she ran up a nearby orange tree, and I was able to coax her back down. She was frightened, and so was I. The next time we go out on the bike, I will pay closer attention to her.

There is always some risk when walking a cat on a leash, backpacking, or riding in a basket on a bike. They certainly are not like dogs, and can pull out of a harness in seconds flat. There are some new designs out there that appear almost t-shirt like, and with a turtle neck that seem more confining.

Lately, I have been seeing more and more cats out there being walked, and it appears to be getting more popular. When I first started out with Callie several years ago, she was mobbed by the novelty of it all. In spite of the risks, cats like Callie need the stimulation, so it does my heart good to see other cats out there doing the same.

* I do have a portable heater churning away in the living room so that she can sleep out there by the warmth. Of course she prefers waking me up so that she can sleep with me though.

Are Cats getting Smarter!

Forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe that domesticated cats are getting much smarter than say, 62 years ago when I was a child. For instance, Callie taps me with her paw to get my undivided attention, meows and stares me in the eye before she starts chewing as if she is hungry. She is asking me to feed her. How obvious is that? It cracks me up every time she does it, and her actions are then positively reinforced. She doesn’t want leftovers, and asks so sweetly for fresh food on demand. If she wasn’t so damn cute, it would quickly escalate to nightmare status.

At least for now, I have trained her to jump down from the bed at night, where I have placed a dainty glass bowl of fresh kibble by my nightstand. That is a huge improvement. At one time earlier in our relationship, I was a slave to getting up several times at night in order to feed her frozen kibble. I know it sounds like I am a pushover, but Callie sure does know how to lay down the law! I mean charm….

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 some time later today. She has 2 sons and a husband who love to off road. We are on 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 desert, 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 was use to. It was a good experience for me to see the other side of having “fun” in the desert!

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 Unites 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 over night, 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 out run 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 hook ups, 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 site 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 to 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 life span 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 reality 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 web site 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 along side 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 suppose 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 its 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 start 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 responsibility 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.