Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RV Blogger Meetups On and Off the Trail in San Diego

We've had a fun and busy two weeks since I last posted, and some much needed rainy days here in San Diego. The good kind of rain: slow and steady and spaced days apart...this just needs to continue for months and months in order for California to get back to "normal"!

In between those rainy days we've managed several meetups with fellow RVing bloggers that are staying at Santee Lakes. In fact the day we arrived Rick and Lenore of Dancing 'Cross the Country also arrived and after a brief meeting with the two of them, one day Lenore joined Hans and I on a hike up the back side of Cowles Mountain.

Unlike the very busy main Cowles Mountain Trail (accessed from Golfcrest Drive), the Big Rock Park trailhead offers fewer fellow hikers and some very steep sections that will give you a serious workout. At 1,593 feet Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the city of San Diego.

Lenore and Lisa atop Cowles Mountain.

Though we didn't manage to hit the trail with Kate and Iain of The Scenic Route before they jetted off to Hawaii, we did get together for a couple of happy hours. Coincidentally, while enjoying their hospitality one evening, Mike and Kelly of Follow the Tumbleweed rolled in to the RV park and joined us after quickly setting up camp.

Hans, Lisa, Kate, Iain, Mike and Kelly in Kate and Iain's beautiful Airstream.
Photo courtesy of Kelly!

We've also reunited with our good buddies John and Pam of Oh, the Places They Go!. We've hiked with these two several times before, but hadn't seen each other since Durango, CO in June 2013.

Our first hike together was a 6 mile loop at Iron Mountain: the Ellie Lane Loop. Much less crowded than the main Iron Mountain Trail, the Ellie Lane trail took us up through giant granite boulders to a saddle offering views to the ocean in the West and Mount Cuyamaca to the East

Walking among the boulders!

Happy hikers on the saddle/high point of the Ellie Lane Trail.

Our next hike with John and Pam is one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County: Morena Butte. This lollipop loop hike goes through a gently rolling section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with great views of the chaparral covered hills, then steeply up the hillside on a sometimes difficult to follow trail on to the top of the butte covered in giant orange tinted granite boulders. The views in every direction are fabulous and the boulder scrambling is terrific fun!

Once we had our fill of boulder exploration, we made our way back to the PCT for a short distance then onto a small trail that took us through a pretty oak and pine studded meadow before dropping us onto a dirt road back to the Lake Morena campground and our trail head.

Boulder covered Morena Butte looms over Pam as she channels her inner Cheryl Strayed on the PCT.

Hans and John pause to admire the amazing granite landscape surrounding them.

Hauser Canyon cuts North from the Butte below us.

Pam poses in front of Lake Morena, which is currently at 3% of its capacity...
the barren area beyond the water used to be filled with water too!

Hans happened upon a Geoache atop a boulder...we were actually looking for a plaque somewhere atop the butte.

Happy Hikers!

Hans and John walking through the meadow with Morena Butte towering above.

We've only a few more days at Santee Lakes before we do some driveway docking in Poway over Christmas and New Years, where we'll do some dog and cat sitting for family. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Begin the Annual San Diego Layover

This is the third consecutive year we've returned to San Diego, our former home town, for an extended stay. Once again we begin our stay with a month at our favorite San Diego RV park: Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. You can read my previous two reviews of this park here and here.

In our opinion the only drawback to this park is the poor Verizon signal, and that has not changed in the past year. Today is the first day we are completely off of Millenicom and are using our Verizon cell phones as our hot spot. So far, putting the cell phone in the Wilson Sleek 4G booster is working for us...a booster is essential at Santee Lakes.

Coots are the most prolific birds at Santee Lakes and those near the office get fed a lot...
this flock is hoping for a handout!
We watched these two battling each other for several minutes; notice the clown feet pushing the opponent!

Our time in San Diego is busy with visits with family and friends and we always end up making new friends in the RV park as well. We've met a couple of other RV bloggers that are in the park already (Dancing 'Cross the Country and The Scenic Route) and a couple more are arriving soon. I hope to get us all together in the next week or so...

As always, no matter where we go, getting out in nature is a high priority. We hiked the Airplane Monument/Arroyo Seco Loop in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park with San Diego friends Martin and Estella and their sweet pooch, Chelsea. This is an excellent 7.2 mile loop with some elevation gain and great views. Wildlife sightings are always possible here and on this day we saw a small flock of turkeys, a bobcat and a couple of coyotes. The bobcat was a big surprise and happened way too quick for a photo! We learned after the hike that dogs are not allowed on the State Park trails...oops!

Site of a 1922 plane crash, the Airplane Monument is a great place to stop for lunch.

You can't miss pointy Stonewall Peak from the Airplane Monument.

Expansive views to the West from Airplane Ridge.

Gobble, gobble...

Chelsea had done great for the first six miles but after she spotted the turkeys
it was time to hitch a ride on mama Estella!

Posting will be light around here for a while, as always happens in San Diego...hopefully we'll have more blog worthy escapades during our stay. If any readers will be joining us at Santee Lakes please contact us via one of the options on the right panel...we'd love to meet up!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Transitioning from the Desert to the Foothills

We've had a peaceful three nights at Lake Skinner Recreation Area, a county park located on the Southern edge of Riverside County, a good transition zone from our previous stop in the desert before we head into our former home town, San Diego, for the next 2.5 months.

When we started this blog back in April 2010 we kept it private for a couple of years, not wanting our employers to know we were considering pulling the plug on the working world. But the hike we did on our first day here reminded me that it was the location of my very first blog post!

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve has miles of trails meandering through the rolling foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Open grasslands are dotted with massive Engelmann oaks, riparian creek beds and even vernal pools after a wet winter. We've seen coyotes, snakes and deer here, and it's incredibly green and gorgeous in the spring (check out that first post for all the green!). Well worth a stop if you are in the Temecula/Murrieta area.

We were enchanted by the swoopy clouds ushering in a mild front
that ended up dropping a few sprinkles on this very parched area over night.

Campround Review

Lake Skinner, actually a reservoir, was a peaceful place to stay for a few nights. If you want to check out the Temecula Wine Country the park is right on the North edge of the wine trail. The park is surrounded by beautiful coastal sage and boulder strewn hills, but you can only appreciate them from afar as they are protected and provide habitat for lots of wildlife, important in this area that has experienced a population explosion in the past 25+ years.

The lake is open to fishing and boating, though with the current low water level only one of the boat ramps is open. Swimming is not allowed in the reservoir. There are lots of family focused activities here: a large playground, splash pad, boat rentals, concert stage. There are a couple of large festivals held here each year, including the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival.

This park can get crazy busy on weekends, especially in the summer. When we called just a couple of days prior to arrival to get a site for three nights (including a Friday night) we were told we got the last perimeter site in Loop C (reviewers say Loop C is the calmest place to be during peak times). Turns out the park was not even half full during our entire stay and we never had next door neighbors.

Roads are paved and sites are dirt with a picnic table and fire pit. The sites are fairly close together and the perimeter sites are generally much better than those in the middle rows. This was a very peaceful place to stay at this time of year, though the park will be FULL for Thanksgiving weekend. The only sounds at night were coyotes and owls. We had a decent Verizon signal that became full signal when boosted.

Site 308 in C Loop is backed by a wide grassy area.
Though site 307 is close, in the foreground, we never had a neighbor during our stay.

Lake Skinner is quite low but still provides pretty reflections and an excellent bird habitat.

There's a cormorant rookery in the eucalyptus trees, at sundown they all took flight,
as well as a large flock of Great Egrets, a few are visible bottom right.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Desert Days: Wrapping Up a Month in Desert Hot Springs

Boy, have we experienced a month full of variety! Plenty of social time, music, architecture and art, learned a new sport and, of course, lots of hiking. Even though we arrived in the desert a bit early and it was hotter than normal for this time of year, we only had to deal with about two weeks worth of low 90's and high 80's. The best part about arriving early in the season: there were plenty of sites available to choose from and the low number of people in the pools at our RV park.

Here's a look at what we did during our final week in Desert Hot Springs:

First, there was a 6 mile hike at Whitewater Preserve, former site of a fish hatchery. The Whitewater River was flowing, small at this time of year of course, but a welcome sight in the dry canyon. Bear and Big Horn Sheep had been spotted here in September, though we did not happen to see any on this day. We just hiked a few miles up the Pacific Crest Trail before turning around and picking our way down the river bed on our return. One of the nicest things about this Preserve is the lovely picnic area at the trailhead.

The picnic area sits alongside the old fish hatchery ponds...which have some large trout in them.

The Whitewater River is currently tiny in its vast flood plain.
The Pacific Crest Trail skirts the edge of the flood plain, then crosses the river and makes its way into a side canyon.

We also returned to Joshua Tree National Park and hiked the same trail we'd hiked a few weeks earlier, just in reverse.

Gotta love hiking among big old piled up rocks!

One of the most fun things we've done in the past week is learn to play Pickleball with Sharon and Cliff when they stayed at Sky Valley Resort just down the road from us. It's a fast paced cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, and pretty easy to learn. We played together several times and I can officially say I am hooked on this game! We just may seek out RV parks with pickleball courts in the future.

Hans and Lisa with Pickleball "Pros" Sharon and Cliff.
Lots of good times shared with these two, we look forward to hooking up again next year...somewhere!

Campground Review
We spent a month at Sam's Family Spa because the monthly rate was MUCH better than the daily or weekly rate ($540/month, plus electric). You choose your site from any that are available, then go settle up with the office. Arriving in mid October there were lots of sites to choose from. Even now, as we leave a week before Thanksgiving, there are plenty of available sites. We chose site 168, a corner, pie-shaped site, that gave us shade all day on our patio and plenty of room for Rosie to roam on her leash. The only drawback to this site was some traffic noise from the nearby intersection of Dillon and Bennett Roads.

Sam's is rustic. Sites are sandy dirt with a cement pad and picnic table, most are fairly close together. There is a large, inexpensive laundry on site. Half of the property is RV sites, half is mobile homes.

The real draw here are the pools. The pool complex is lush and lovely, with a lagoon full of fish and birds. Four mineral fed hot pools of increasing heat, NO chlorine, emptied each night. Plus two cooler pools with just a touch of chlorine, you don't even notice it.  The mineral pool water is recycled into the lagoon and landscaping. Locals told us this pool system has the least chlorine of all the spas in the area. There are also steam rooms and a sauna.

Any time we stay at a park for a month we like to have good walking/hiking from the RV park. From Sam's you can walk into the desert right across the street or from the end of Bennett Road. Just beyond a few houses it's pretty much open desert, go as far as you want as long as you avoid obvious private property. That said, the desert here is not nearly as pretty as the Sonoran desert, for example.

Thanks to our friends Cliff and Sharon, we got to tour two other nearby parks: Caliente Springs and Sky Valley. These are sister parks that share amenities. They have nice pool complexes and other amenities such as a small golf course and pickleball courts. Both of these parks are more expensive than Sam's, but do offer more amenities. We just might try Sky Valley next time we're in the's got pickleball! These two resorts participate in Passport America so you can get a really good rate for a shorter stay.

Site 168 is a large pie-shaped site with terrific shade.
If you feed the fish and birds at the lagoon you just might get to see a heron catch a fish!
This guy caught a very large fish and actually swallowed the whole thing!

Here's our last desert sunset for a while. Tomorrow we continue on South; next stop: Lake Skinner County Park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Desert Days,Week Three

Three weeks into our month in Desert Hot Springs and we've kept pretty busy. We've gotten together a second time with Zsuzsa and Tom, future fulltimers, and had a fabulous home cooked Hungarian meal. We've also met up with Sharon and Cliff, Canadian snow birds we've had the pleasure of seeing each year since we started fulltiming and met them on the road.

And, of course, we've been hiking. One day we took the short drive over to Mission Creek Preserve. We hiked the 7 mile out and back to the Pacific Crest Trail junction. The first 1.5 miles is on a dirt road, then you hit the actual trail, a good, sometimes sandy, single track up a canyon. The big surprise on this hike was Mission Creek actually had water in it!

Surprise! There's water in Mission Creek!
This was a brief section along the trail...the rest was dry, dry, dry!

We've also done a couple of hikes right from the RV. Flag Mountain was a five mile round trip with substantial elevation gain, you'll want to do this exposed hike on a cooler day. Nina provides directions here. There are some steep, loose rock sections on this hike.
See those two little, tiny people heading up the Flag Mountain Trail?

Great views from Flag Mountain!

We also returned to Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve and did the seven mile loop: Herman's Hike. This hike should be done on a cooler day due to exposure and elevation gain. We enjoyed long desert views, a trek across dry, barren ridge tops, a lovely palm oasis, and the surprise of a creek flowing across the desert.

Heading up hill on the Herman's Hike Loop at 1,000 Palms Preserve.

After miles of dry desert, Willis Palms Oasis comes into view on the hillside just below us.

Willis Palms is an oasis on a hillside!
It last burnt in 2010, but palm trees are able to bounce back from fire due to their composition.

Hard shelled mushroom in the desert.

Surprise creek flowing out of 1,000 Palms Preserve.

Last Sunday we celebrated Equality along with thousands of other folks at the Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival. The parade happened to fall on the second Sunday of the month so we also enjoyed free entry to the Palm Springs Art Museum. And, topped the day off with a free concert by the Psychedelic Furs, taking us back to the early 1980's and the early days of New Wave Punk Rock.

2nd Sundays are free at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Psychedelic Furs rocked!

We visited The Living Desert in Palm Desert on Veterans Day, where Hans got in for half price in thanks for his military service many years ago. This is a very well done zoo and gardens, half dedicated to Africa, and half to North America. Many of the animal enclosures were large and natural looking, giving the animals a decent home even though they are in captivity. The gardens were beautiful representations of various deserts near and far.

It's a long way down for a drink!

Don't you just want to reach out and pet him?  ;-)

This badger was all feisty, running around like our cat does when she has a wild explosion of energy!

I loved this tree from Madagascar.

There are even a few miles of desert hiking trails at The Living Desert.

We love gila monsters!

Another week of hot pool soaking and desert hiking ahead of us before we move on South.. We're enjoying the cooler temps, a few clouds, and some winds brought in by the deep freeze hitting a big chunk of the country...made a nice sunset last night: