Celebrating life on Cedar Trail

After updating our trip notes in my See More, Do More, Live More – The Airstream Travel Journal notebook, we hiked the Cedar Trail and noticed that there are new signs, including one that alerted us that we were “Entering Mountain Lion Country”.  Cedar Trail is a one-mile loop trail that mostly stays under a canopy of oak, pine, and cedar trees representative of William Heise County Park, in San Diego, California.

DSC_0065 New signs for Cedar Trail

“Better to have campers take their dogs on the trails with a leash, than leave them alone at the campsite,” said the ranger.   We were thrilled with this new and progressive policy and took our Corgis, Mac and Tasha, on their first hike on a county trail.

DSC_0165 Larry & Corgis on Cedar Trail

Keeping an eye out for mountain lions, we rested on a bench near Cedar Creek and marveled at the magnificent trees and chorus of bird sounds.

DSC_0144 Resting along Cedar Creek

Continuing on the trail, we saw dead oak trees killed by the goldspotted oak borer beetle, which has killed 80,000 oak trees in San Diego County over the past ten years.*  The 2003 Cedar Fire has also taken a toll here, but we celebrated the re-growth of trees, such as the California incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, coming up through holes in the oak canopy.

DSC_0055 Dead oak & live Cedar

We also spotted wild turkeys in this park and noticed that they did not seem as plentiful compared to when we first camped here six years ago.  Wild turkeys are considered a good “indicator species” and may reflect the health of an entire ecosystem.

DSC_0122 Heise Park wild turkeys

One of the trails from the Cedar Trail back to the campground passes by the cabin area.  These new William Heise Park cabins* are aesthetically pleasing, blend in well with the environment, and do not block views or replace RV campsites.

DSC_0105 Heise County Park Cabin

We returned to our favorite Airstream Safari campsite in this park and, even though we were tired, we smiled while we rested and cherished the memories of celebrating life* on Cedar Trail.

DSC_0058 A tired and happy Corgi!

*This is a YouTube video.

Summertime illuminations in the Cuyamacas

After cooling off at the beach, and rinsing off the salt deposits, our Airstream Safari was ready to get high again in the Cuyamaca Mountain Range that we visited just two months ago.  Last April, after a three year absence, we were curious to see how William Heise County Park fared after trees were damaged by wind and wet snow, and oak trees were killed by the Goldspotted Oak Borer.  We were pleased to see that there were plenty of oak trees still surviving and many improvements have been made, including new picnic tables, beautiful cabins, and the surprise that dogs are now allowed on park trails.  So on the eve of summer before temperatures peak, we returned for five days of camping in this beautiful forest setting surrounded by pine, oak, and cedar trees.

DSC_0041 Cedar fire damage to Cuyamacas

Ten years ago the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire* burned approximately 70% of William Heise Park, which is now a showcase of a forest in various stages of re-growth.  Chaparral is rapidly recovering, even though bleached white skeletons of black oaks and manzanitas are still seen on surrounding hillsides.  With rainfall just 65% of normal, San Diego County firefighters are preparing for yet another potentially dangerous wildfire season.

DSC_0032 Our Wm

We positioned our Safari in our favorite non-hookup campsite for optimal sunbathing, which enabled our two factory installed solar panels to recharge our two Lifeline AGM batteries to 100% by mid-morning each day.  We had full sun all five days and the solar panels delivered a total of 193 amp-hours by the fifth day.

Each day began by walking our Corgis, Mac and Tasha.  The ranger explained that the recent decision to allow dogs on trails in this park is based on the premise that it is better to have people enjoying hiking on trails with their dogs on a leash, than having dogs left alone at campsites.

DSC_0135 Larry walks Mac & Tasha

While our trailer soaked in the rays, we enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the nearby Coulter Pine and Canyon Live Oak trees as cool breezes flowed up the forest hillside.  This was an excellent location for reading, bird watching and listening to relaxing bird sounds.*  Our peace was only interrupted by biting flies that Tasha snapped at before retreating under the truck. (Larry killed 18 flies in one afternoon.)

DSC_0025 Relaxing in shade

DSC_0018 Bird watching at Heise

Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana

My summer reading included Illumination in the Flatwoods – A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey, by Joe Hutto. (Appropriate reading in a park known for its turkeys!)

DSC_0011 My summer reading

Our summer eve feasting included hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Mexican Zucchini steamed in a cast iron Japanese nabe.  It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy!*

DSC_0036 Summertime feasting

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cuyamaca Mountain high

While high winds roared through Southern California last Monday, causing power outages and damage in Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and dust storms in Arizona,* we were hunkered down in our Airstream Safari 4,200 feet above sea level in a pine and oak forest along the northern extremity of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range on our first full day in William Heise County Park after a 3 year absence.  By the following day, the wind and rain had stopped and we set up camp and enjoyed beautiful sunny weather the rest of the week.

DSC_0021 Heise campsite setup

On Wednesday, our good friends Bert and Janie came up from Borrego Springs for a day of hiking, photography, feasting, conversing and having a good time.

DSC_0039 Bert with new Nikon D800E

Bert brought along his new Nikon D800E.*  Bert and I promptly took our Nikon cameras on a hike on the Cedar Creek Trail, while Janie and Larry enjoyed chatting at our campsite.  As soon as we got on the trail, we were happy to spot a couple of mule deer.

DSC_0042 Deer on Cedar Creek Trail

We enjoyed photographing the rich textures of this oak, pine and cedar forest and delighted in the play of light and shadows.

DSC_0051 Bert shooting bench & trees

We returned to camp just in time for lunch that Larry was preparing:  Caldo de Mariscos (based on a recipe by Chef Rick Bayless*), a medley of squid, catfish, shrimp, and baby Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) simmered in a tomato-based soup, seasoned with guajillo chilies.

DSC_0090 Larry's Caldo de Mariscos

This savory dish brought smiles to all.

DSC_0094 Lunch with Bert & Janie

This is the second time this month that Bert has been observed slurping the last drops of soup out of his bowl (Japanese style).  The first time was recorded in Aluminarium’s blog post, “Bottoms Up!”

DSC_0096 Drinking soup Japanese style

We sipped on wine and shared our thoughts during this mellow afternoon.  We celebrated our wonderful times together this camping season: at Agua Caliente County Park last October and then celebrating life with a lunch, hike and photo shoot in November.  This truly was a mountain high* and we look forward to many more in the future!

DSC_0201 Mellow afternoon at Heise

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cabinization of our parks

It was love at first sight when we arrived at Agua Caliente County Park for the first time in November 2010.  We were thrilled that this park now allowed dogs and we scouted out the best site for our style of camping away from crowds.  We didn’t mind that the sites did not have Wi-Fi or cell phone reception without using special antennas or boosters.  This site was just big enough for our trailer and was nestled near mountains and had gorgeous vista views.

DSC_0125 Our 1st Agua Caliente site

DSC_0007 Vista view from our site

This quickly became our favorite desert camping site, so you can imagine our shock last fall to learn that we could not reserve this site or any of the other eleven RV sites on this southeast loop of the park because cabins were about to be built there!

DSC_0041 SE loop with 12 RV sites

So we reserved an alternative site and returned to Agua Caliente Regional Park last October and began documenting the “progress” of cabins replacing RV sites.  Our favorite site had already been leveled and fenced in.*

DSC_0045 Our site fenced in

By January, the foundations were in place for seven Agua Caliente cabins that the Annual Parks Improvement Plan estimated will cost $500,000.

DSC_0067 Agua Caliente cabin foundation

Although this initially shocked me, I can understand and sympathize with the dilemma many camping parks are experiencing.  Economic hard times over the past few years have undoubtedly caused some people to camp less, and stay closer to home, while parks and campgrounds have experienced increased costs and decreased funding, which have resulted in cutbacks in staffing and services.  Additionally, “Today’s [sequester] Cuts Mean Wide-Ranging Impacts for Parks – and – People around the Country”, writes Tom Kiernan, President of the National Parks Conservation Association, and detailed in the National Parks Conservation Association’s Park Advocate posting of March 1, 2013.  “Funding Discussion Shares Creative Solutions for National Park Funding Woes”, writes Tom in an article for the Huffington Post Green Blog, 3/20/2013.

One solution for some camping parks is to provide cabins to attract new campers who are not ready to invest in camping gear or an RV.  “California State Parks have endured hard times and budget cuts for a number of years now…  Our proposal to revitalize and reopen Tamarisk Grove Campground was selected by California State Parks for a special grant last March… 10 new cabins will be built onsite to give folks an alternative to tent or trailer camping”, writes Kathy Dice, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent, in her “Superintendent’s Corner” of the Anza-Borrego Foundation‘s Desert Update, Fall 2012 issue.

DSC_0020 Cabins nearing completion

As the Agua Caliente cabins are nearing completion, I still have mixed emotions about cabins replacing RV sites.  Cabins are structures that permanently occupy space and block views, especially noticeable in this vast desert setting.*  New cabins in wooded settings, such as William Heise County Park*, seem to tie in better with the surroundings and are less obtrusive.

DSC_0026 SE loop with 7 cabins

Agua Caliente Campground is also currently upgrading its electrical service to include 50 amp power and eliminate the power poles, and plans to upgrade the sewer system.  The plan also calls for new RV sites… eventually.  But as the documentary Surviving Progress* points out, we must make a distinction between good progress and bad progress.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Tricks, Treats, and Trees, Part 2

By midweek in the mountains, the cool, drizzly, season of the witch weather broke, and the Safari’s aluminum panels happily creaked and groaned while expanding as comforting warm rays of glorious sunshine lit up the campsite and surroundings with vibrant colors.

dsc_0010-happy-sunshine-safari.jpg

Our spirits brightened as hawks soared high, while wispy clouds danced in the clear, blue sky.

dsc_0024-hawks-soared-high.jpg

Oak trees glowed in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun.

dsc_0073-trees-basked-in-the-sun.jpg

At sunset, Larry made Chile Rellenos en Salsa Verde con Arroz.  (Stuffed peppers in tomatillo sauce with rice.)  See his recipe below.

dsc_0045-chile-rellenos-salsa-verde.jpg

1. Sauté diced onions in a frying pan with previous night’s cooking drippings to deglaze the pan.

2. Add salsa verde (tomatillo sauce) and heat to simmer.

3. Slit a raw chile poblano (aka “chile pasilla” in a Latino market). Remove the stem.

4. Stuff the chile with shredded cooked chicken and shredded cheese. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for the remaining chiles.

5. Place the stuffed chiles in a circle on the simmering sauce. Cover and cook until the chiles are heated through and the cheese is melted.

6. Place leftover cooked rice in the center of the pan, sprinkle with ground cayenne pepper, cover, and steam until the rice is reheated.

7. Serve and garnish with chopped cilantro.

dsc_0048-safari-night-ambience.jpg

Gently flickering votive candles on the lobster sink countertop sent light rippling across the shiny, curved aluminum interior, providing relaxing ambiance as we listened to classical music, such as Mozart’s 3rd Movement Cadenza.  I swung the Nikon D-40 around on the tripod to capture more precious moments (on the lounge top ledge is seen Precious Moments – Larry’s retirement award, the boy holding a basketball in a wheelchair), as Griff , the griffin looked on.  (Larry is a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist.)

dsc_0051-precious-moments.jpg

Now, on to Halloween… and the Greatest Show Unearthed!