Grazing and gazing at Agua Caliente

It was love at first sight when we began camping at Agua Caliente County Park four years ago at a campsite that had beautiful vista views and was far from the maddening crowd.  We lost that site two years ago to “cabinization of our parks,” when seven cabins replaced eleven full hookup RV sites!  We found an alternative site that had some of the amenities of our first site here, but it was not as private and was vulnerable to noisy neighbors, often lacking in good camping etiquette, who were either inconsiderate or were oblivious to how easily sound travels through a campground.  We began this fall camping season at a promising new site that may better meet our needs.

DSC_0057 Agua Caliente Fall 2014

DSC_0084 Our new campsite

One of the challenges for this park is dealing with flash floods that periodically rush down the Tierra Blanca Mountains and wash out roads and campsites.*  I learned from our neighbor that medical permittee, Barbara Macdonald, and her domestic partner of 26 years, Cynthia Rich (Desert Years: Undreaming the American Dream, and Dharma Gleanings), built a rock retaining wall on their 1983-1989 trailer site (seen below) to control erosion.

DSC_0194 Retaining wall of 1980s

One of the assets of this park is the scenic Moonlight Canyon Trail that I enjoy hiking every time we are here and where I had my close encounter with Peninsular Bighorn Sheep three years ago.

DSC_0103 Hiking Moonlight Canyon

The slopes abound with various cacti, such as ocotillo, barrel, and cholla, which provide food for the sheep.  The following day, I spotted bighorn sheep on a ridge above the campground caravan area.

DSC_0141 Seven Bighorn Sheep

Seeing bighorn sheep always brings a smile to my face… and sunshine makes me happy!*

DSC_0104 Hiker:Author resting

And hiking gives me an appetite for Larry’s savory carne asada.

DSC_0156 Carne asada

We sipped Ménage à Trois red wine* as the full moon rose…

DSC_0173 Star gazing

And leaned back to stargaze and contemplate the heavens* and this site.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Happy in sunny San Diego

Our Airstream Safari trailer is happy as a clam after getting the salt deposits washed off upon returning to home base after basking on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach for 5 days.  The big, annual wash and wax job will take place next month before we begin our fall camping schedule.

DSC_0335 Salt deposits washed off

We have been happily enjoying viewing free, over-the-air high definition TV over the summer and celebrating our independence from pay TV with the help of our Mohu Leaf 50 indoor antenna, saving us $75/month.

Last week, we were happy to discover the first flower bud on one of our pitahaya cactus plants, Hylocereus undatus, that we planted three years ago.  This is also known as Dragon Fruit and we are happy that it grows well in San Diego.

DSC_0001 Our first pitahaya flower bud

We obtained our plants and sample fruit of the Pitahaya Roja* (seen below) from Ong Nursery.

Last night our pitahaya bloomed under a full moon. Pitahaya flowers in Southern California bloom for one night only.

DSC_0054 1st Pitahaya bloom

Pitahaya pistil with writhing tentacles happily rises above 800 stamens.**

DSC_0052 Pistil rises above stamens

I climbed a stepladder under the full moon and applied a small brush to cross-pollinate two flowers.  The deed was completed by happy bees in the early morning.

DSC_0087 Bees pollinating pitahaya

We now await the fruits of our labors.

DSC_0021 Ripe pitahaya fruit

Eating Dragon Fruit* is a happy, refreshing and healthy experience.

Another happy experience occurred early this summer when we gathered with friends for a Victorian picnic in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

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(Photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

Seen on the table is ham and cheese stromboli (made by Larry), along with German coleslaw, fresh fruit, lemonade, lemon curd, pickles, empanadas, hard boiled eggs, and sliced cheese.

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(Above photo credit: Travel writer, Charlie Jung)

HPIM2905 Bill & Larry, happy in Old Town

And of course, we had a Happy time in Old Town San Diego!*

And continue to be Happy in America’s Finest City!*

* This is a link to a YouTube video.

** Pitahaya: A Promising New Fruit Crop for Southern California, Paul H Thomson, Leo W Manuel, 2002

Celebrating independence from pay TV

We are now home for the summer and celebrating Independence Day by celebrating our independence from pay TV, which will save us $900 per year!  A 12% increase in our cable bill this winter motivated us to take stock of our TV viewing habits, preferences, and the costs for pay TV, which led to an exploration of alternatives.

We are happy with the high-speed internet service provided by our cable company, but we were not happy to pay $75/month for cable TV and TV fees for the 75 or so channels that we mostly don’t watch, except for a few such as PBS, CBS, and MSNBC.  We first explored the possibility of selecting a more economical package, a lower tier of channels that included our favorites.  I was surprised that our cable company told us that to go to the next lower tier, we would need their cable TV box that would filter out channels that we would not be paying for.  But we did not want to rent a cable box, especially after recent reports that they are high energy users.*

We then explored the over-the-air (OTA) TV option by using TV Fool’s TV Signal Locator tool to determine what broadcast TV signals are available in our area. Once we realized that we could watch PBS via KPBS-HD, CBS via KFMB-DT, and other high-definition channels for free (and our favorite MSNBC shows, such as The Rachel Maddow Show could be viewed the next day on the internet), we used AntennaWeb’s tool to determine the proper antenna type for our viewing preferences, which turned out to be a small multidirectional antenna.  We chose the Mohu Leaf 50™ Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna.*

DSC_0414 Mohu Leaf 50 amp

The test was to see if we could actually wean ourselves from cable TV, so we disconnected our cable TV coax and connected our Mohu Leaf antenna that was hung high on our living room window.  We were thrilled that this antenna picked up OTA high-definition broadcasts that often had better quality images than seen via our cable TV service, such as SpongeBob SquarePants broadcast by XHGC-HD.

DSC_0378 SpongeBob via XHGC-HD

Of course, it helps that we are on a hill and not far from one of three local TV broadcast towers.  We kept the antenna connected to our now cable-free TV for a month to prove to ourselves that we were not addicted to cable TV before actually discontinuing our cable TV service.  It was easier for us since we are not avid sports fans and can be satisfied by content provided by PBS, CBS, and other local TV stations.

DSC_0395 KPBS-HD OTA (Over the air)

DSC_0408_2 CBS, OTA, via KFMB-DT

We then discontinued our cable TV service and bought another Mohu Leaf antenna and a Mediasonic HW180STB Homeworx HDTV Digital Converter Box for our older, analog TV in the bedroom.  (The converter box is turned off when not in use to keep it cool and to save on energy costs.  It can also be brought into the trailer to enable our older TV to receive digital broadcasts.)

DSC_0386 Mediasonic HomeWorx converter

We now enjoy TV for free as it was meant to be when I was growing up and watching The Howdy Doody Show.*  Howdy Doody is always on (or nearby) the TV in our Airstream Safari trailer!

DSC_0371-2 Howdy Doody on TV

Declaring independence from pay TV is a liberating experience!

And, as Whispering Jack Smith sings,

The best things in life are free“!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

 

 

Ocean knight currents, part four

I cautiously passed the windmill facing the ocean, which I had originally and mistakenly perceived to be a giant with waving arms,* and sallied forth to find the museum housing musical instruments that are close to my heart, such as the lute.

DSC_0165-2 South Carlsbad windmill

While venturing eastward, I came upon a lovely field of flowers (The Flower Fields® at Carlsbad Ranch)* with a beautiful damsel (Dulcinea?)* in the middle beckoning visitors to enjoy the splendor of ten million Ranunculus flowers.

DSC_0163 Flower Fields of Carlsbad

Assured that the lady was safe behind a white picket fence, I continued on in search of stringed instruments and came upon a magnificent castle* on top of a hill with a commanding view of the countryside and the Pacific Ocean.  This is the home of the Museum of Making Music,* which displays hundreds of vintage instruments and presents special exhibitions twice a year along with concerts, workshops, and educational programs.  (I last made a pilgrimage here in 2008 to view a special exhibit of ukuleles.)  I was delighted that my quest was at an end as I experienced their current, special exhibit, “The Banjo: A New Day for an Old Instrument.”

DSC_0149 MOMM's banjo exhibit (1)

DSC_0150 MOMM's banjo exhibit (2)

The banjo’s roots are thought to go back to West Africa, where hide-covered gourd folk lutes, such as the akonting, were plucked.*  The concept was transported to Colonial America by Africans via the Atlantic slave trade.

DSC_0159 Banjo's roots

An early version of the banjo was played in degrading minstrel shows of the 1800s.  My favorite black banjo/guitar/singer of the folk song era of the 1960s was Elizabeth Cotten,* best known for her timeless song, “Freight Train.”*

DSC_0146 Recapturing the Banjo

Back at camp, Larry prepared lunch featuring pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish, fried masa pies filled with ham and cheese.

DSC_0176 Larry's pupusas

A couple strolled into the sunset as I reflected on our successful quests, the rebirth of the San Diego Opera, and why music is so important.*

DSC_0018 Stroll into the sunset

It’s nice to remember the sun’s gonna shine again.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Mountain knight stars, part one

As we prepared for a change in our camping venue, from the now hot desert to our relatively cool mountains, we heard the shocking news that the San Diego Opera would begin to shut down after the last performance of Don Quixote* in April.  San Diego Opera, considered one of the top ten opera companies in the nation, is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.  I was especially saddened because I have performed as a supernumerary in 21 San Diego operas over a ten year period, which included roles such as the soldier, guard, henchman seen here in Tosca, and lead waiter in Cosi fan tutte.*  I brought along the novel, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, to read during our 5-day mountain camping trip so that I could totally immerse myself in this multifaceted story (and local drama) and appreciate the character of Don Quixote, brought to life onstage by bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto* in the operatic version, Don Quichotte, by Jules Massenet.*

DSC_0067 Don Quixote & knights

The more I read, the more I began to identify with this knight-errant character, who goes on quests, searches for adventures, does good deeds, appreciates beauty, pursues dreams, fights for things he loves, and yet remains compassionate.  I began to see parallelisms as waxing moonlight gleamed on our trailer’s armor when the stars began to shine.*

DSC_0075 Armour under mtn

As we battled the hot sun by extending the rear awning with an additional sail held in place by ratcheted webbing, I remembered Don Quixote’s battle with giants (windmill sails).*

DSC_0029 Rear awning extension sail

We trekked on mountain trails on a quest for adventure.*

DSC_0054 Larry, Mac, & Tasha, Cedar Trail

I spotted what looked like a Dementor or something else* and prepared to do battle.

DSC_0095 Dementor?

But just then, a wary wild turkey hen emerged while foraging.

DSC_0017 Wary turkey hen

Her worried look seemed justified because she was being pursued and courted by a strutting tom turkey, whose grandiose display reminded me of the valiant character, Don Quixote.

DSC_0142 Tom turkey struts

More mountain adventures are coming up in part two, along with stunning flowers, feasts, stars, and more about Don Quixote and the San Diego Opera,** why this opera needs to be saved,* and how you can come to its rescue!  San Diego Opera makes music worth seeing… and saving!***

*This is a YouTube video.

**UCSD-TV San Diego Opera Spotlight video

***This is a San Diego Opera video produced by UCSD-TV