Airstream into San Diego and beyond

San Diego region has year-round camping opportunities, excellent weather, and wonderful places to visit and, when coming here to do both, it’s good and more enjoyable to have a plan, a two-part plan.  Over the past eight years, we’ve enjoyed taking our Airstream Safari to our favorite San Diego beach, mountain, and desert camping spots, and while there, we frequently meet people new to the area who are interested in learning more about places to visit in the San Diego metropolitan area and where to stay while visiting friends and places there.

DSC_0268 Sail into San Diego

The first part of this suggested plan is to see the many attractions in the metropolitan San Diego area first, while staying at a nearby, local campground.  The second part is to move to your ideal camping location away from the city, where you can enjoy hiking, swimming or relaxing at a beachside, mountain, or desert campground, depending on the season.  To get your best camping locations and sites, it’s best to make your reservations as early as possible.  San Diego County’s Sweetwater Summit Regional Park is a good starting point because it is only 10 miles southeast of downtown San Diego and has 112 campsites and its Summit Campground has 63 new sites with full hookups.*  San Diego County Parks have a new look and feel.* The main advantage of this campground is that it’s just 20-25 minutes away from many local attractions such as the beaches, Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Sea Port Village, and Old Town.

While in the metropolitan area, you could bring your own lunch and have a happy time in Old Town.*


(Above photo credit: Charlie Chul Jung)

Or visit San Diego’s beautiful and historic Balboa Park* and its many museums, such as theNAT and see its permanent exhibition, “Coast to Cactus”, featuring an Airstream trailer!* (Parking is available in the park or nearby areas, including the San Diego Zoo parking lot.)

DSC_0420 Desert night show in back

Checkout the flamingos and what’s new at the San Diego Zoo, such as the Asian Leopards Habitat with Catwalks.*

DSC_0055 San Diego Zoo

Visit Cabrillo National Monument* with its Old Point Loma Lighthouse, hiking trails and tide pools.

HPIM2313 Old Pt Loma Lighthouse

Or take a 45-minute drive north to explore San Diego Zoo Safari Park* (formerly named San Diego Wild Animal Park).

DSC_0266 San Deigo Zoo Safari Park

After visiting the local San Diego attractions, you can then move to your preferred beach, mountain, or desert campground that you reserved ahead of time.  During the summer, the coolest place to enjoy camping is one of our California State beach campgrounds, such as South Carlsbad State Beach.  It is very popular and reservations for beachside camping often need to be made months in advance.  Our favorite time to go is in May before the summer crowds.

DSC_0013 South Carlsbad State Beach

Our favorite fall and spring campground is William Heise County Park in the mountains near Julian, California.  We prefer the wooded, non-hookup sites in Area 2.  Dogs on a leash are permitted on the scenic trails.

DSC_0089 Wm Heise County Park

The desert is a great place to camp during the late fall, winter and early spring months.  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park* is popular because of the resources of the nearby town of Borrego Springs.

DSC_0278 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Our favorite desert campground is Agua Caliente County Park because there is less traffic and it is not so crowded, especially during the weekdays.  It has a therapeutic spa and pools, but dogs are not allowed on trails.

DSC_0084 Our new campsite

Explore San Diego, where every day is a new adventure!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Catfish by the sea, again

For the past eight years, we’ve rounded out our camping season by unhitching our Airstream Safari trailer on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach.  Reservations for the popular beach side campsites need to be made up to  6 months in advance.  Our favorite site has windblown bushes (Melaleuca nesophila) that provide privacy, but California’s drought is now having an impact on them.  A ranger told me that the park is now limiting watering to three times per week and will be replacing the turf with drought tolerant plants.

DSC_0114 South Carlsbad State Beach

DSC_0128 Campsite on the bluff

Each year we enjoy listening to the continuous sound of the surf* and watching the shore birds soar by on the updraft of the sea breeze along the bluffs.

DSC_0068 Surf at Carlsbad

DSC_0337 Pelicans soaring

Nearby is The Flower Fields* 50-acre garden on the Carlsbad Ranch, featuring Giant Tecolote Ranuculus blooms* 10 weeks each spring sustained by reclaimed water from the City of Carlsbad and a drip irrigation system.

DSC_0035 The Flower Fields

DSC_0043 Giant Tecolote Ranunculus

On this trip I did  a photo shoot of a crow dive-bombing a squirrel hole in an attempt to capture young squirrels (See the dramatic photos and story in my post, “A crow and squirrel interlude,” History Safari Expresso).  I was also lucky to have the camera ready when a Great blue heron landed on our campsite fence.

DSC_0293 The crow and the squirrel

DSC_0225 Great blue heron

We decorated our outdoor camp kitchen with papel picado for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.*  Larry deep fried catfish.

DSC_0144 Cooking catfish, Cinco de Mayo

DSC_0157 Catfish by the sea

The last time we ate catfish by the sea, we enjoyed beautiful, glowing sunsets.  This time the sun silhouetted San Clemente Island.

DSC_0191 Flying solo at sunset

The ocean is a wonderful place to contemplate the mysteries and celebrations of life, as seen in my post, “Ocean gleanings,” History Safari Expresso.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Mobile-friendly mountain happiness

History Safari Express is now seven years old, got a facelift, and is now mobile-friendly, which should make users of mobile devices happy when they visit this website that brings history alive as Larry and I continue our Airstream adventures in San Diego’s beautiful mountains, deserts, and along the coast.  The push to go mobile-friendly came from Google’s changing its search algorithms on April 21, 2015, which will favor websites that are mobile-friendly.  Mobile-friendly means that users of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can read and navigate website content, which is important since millions of Internet users access and search the Internet with mobile devices.  According to the CBS News story, “Google search shake-up favors mobile-friendly sites,” 29% of all U.S. search requests in the last three months of last year were made on mobile devices.

History Safari Express is now happier and happy to report that we and our Airstream Safari, now eight years old, were happy to return to the cool, refreshing Cuyamaca Mountains now that our local desert is heating up.  We returned to our favorite non-hookup campsite at William Heise County Park near Julian, California, where we were surrounded by fragrant Palmer Lilac bushes, pine and oak trees, and plentiful wildlife.

DSC_0005 Palmer Lilac around Safari

Temperatures at night were in the 30s and 40s so we were happy that our Mr. Heater, using 16.4 oz. propane canisters, warmed the trailer without needing to use the energy inefficient and loud trailer furnace.  Per the manual, this heater requires a vent area of 9 square inches, which was easily supplied by our 5″ diameter bathroom vent that has an area of 19.6 square inches.  As seen in the photo below, the bathroom door could be kept closed because it has a bottom opening, 1.75″ by 26″, and an area of 45.5 square inches.  One canister lasted us 5 hours, set on “LO” setting.

DSC_0013(2) Mr Heater

We and our solar panels were happy when the sun came up.  A portable radio helped to conserve electrical power.  At night we enjoyed votive candles.

DSC_0018 Grundig YB 305 receiver

Of course, our corgis, Mac and Tasha, were thrilled to go on walks.  We paused to admire a flowering Western redbud.

DSC_0039 Larry & corgis by Western redbud

DSC_0030 Western redbud

We are happy that this San Diego County Park allows dogs on trails, and our corgis couldn’t wait to get on the Cedar Trail.  (Dogs need to be kept on a six foot leash.)

DSC_0089 Larry & corgis on Cedar Trail

Mule deer* were nearby.

DSC_0002 Mule deer

And Rio Grande Turkeys feasted during a 40 minute photo shoot while I imagined Senator Robert Byrd playing, “Turkey in the Straw.”* (See more close-up views of this tom turkey and his two hens and how this opportunity arose in my post, “A Rio Grande turkey interlude,” History Safari Expresso blog.)

DSC_0316 Rio Grande Turkey feasting


DSC_0343 Rio Grande Tom Turkey

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean next month.  In the meantime, see more photos of deer, turkeys, Acorn woodpeckers, Stellar jays, and read and hear meditations, and find out what is so special about four pebbles in my post, “Mountain gleanings,” and see my updated post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” all in my new History Safari Expresso blog, which just went mobile-friendly, and now I’m really feelin’ groovy!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Crowing about desert life

“There is always something tremendously exciting about beginning a New Year…  It is the beginning of a new page; a page of some fascinating, illumined parchment. An ancient page, but to us still unread. What will it hold? The desert is full of mystery and surprise.”**  Thus begins poet, author, and artist Marshal South‘s* account of his family’s 17-year experiment in living a primitive lifestyle at their home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain in the Anza-Borrego Desert.  Some might see this area as desolate, but Marshal saw and wrote about the desert’s cornucopia of animals, plants, weather, stars, and peaceful beauty.  Escaping the stress of urban living for 5 days each month through spring and relaxing in the desert helps restore our sanity.

Our desert mornings typically begin with a beautiful sunrise that bathes the nearby mountains with an ever-changing array of dusty pastel colors.  We delight in watching and listening to the birds that emerge and feed on birdseed that Larry placed in the bird feeder or scattered about.

DSC_0035 Gambel's quail, White-winged doves

Gambel’s quail and White-winged doves feast on wild birdseed scattered on our nearby embankment, while White-crowned sparrows land and spin around on the hanging bird feeder.

DSC_0102 White-crowned sparrows

After my morning coffee and toast, listening to the news and weather, and watching the sun rise, it was time to send out our Nutcracker to survey the prospects for a good morning hike.  He reported that prospects were good for me, but he’d stay behind due to his stiff legs.

DSC_0031 Nutcracker in the desert 2

So with camera in one hand and walking stick in another, water bottle on my waist belt, and Tilley hat* on my head, I ventured forth on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.  I traveled slowly and quietly in hopes of seeing the bighorn sheep that I first encountered four years ago.  I wasn’t disappointed as I rounded a curve in the trail before entering the canyon and spotted two bighorn sheep grazing on new vegetative growth after recent rains.

DSC_0046 Bighorn sheep

They seemed to recognize me, and came down off the small ridge, walked across the trail, and scampered up the ridge on the other side.  They paused and took another look at me before going over the ridge and galloping across a relatively flat watershed area to the east of the campground.

DSC_0059 Bighorn sheep 12:9:14

I then entered the shaded portion of Moonlight Canyon with its refreshingly cool air chilled by granite walls that retained the previous night’s cold.  The trail then opened up into warm, full sun with cholla, barrel cacti, and ocotillo piercing a deep blue sky.

DSC_0070 Moonlight Canyon Trail

No further sheep were spotted, but desert plants like the agave were beautiful to see and have inspired us to begin replacing some of our water-needy plants at home with desert plants that help us conserve water* in the face of California’s ongoing extreme drought.*

DSC_0077 Agave along Moonlight Canyon

I always enjoy a shower after a good hike before lunch, so I returned to the trailer, changed and grabbed a towel, and called out to a raven* that recognized me and circled about while calling back* to me as I made my way to the campground’s shower.

DSC_0026 Strutting raven

This common raven and the crow are both in the same genus (Corvus) of birds, and they and the beauty and diversity of the desert are something to crow about.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

**Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.

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.