Tricks, Treats, and Trees, Part 1

Our October trip to the mountains was packed with tricks and treats appropriate for this Halloween season.  When we made the camping reservations, NOAA forecasted sunny and mild weather.  Two weeks before departure, we experienced record-breaking heat (over 100°) in San Diego.  One week prior to our departure, the county was being bombarded by lightning strikes setting palm trees on fire as Blue Angels soared overhead.  Santa Ana conditions usually occur this time of year, bringing a warm, dry flow of air from the deserts.  But a cell of moisture was stalled just offshore, as we made our way through pockets of dense fog and sunlight to the mountains.dsc_0026-sun-into-rain.jpgThe trailer was unhitched just in time as the wind picked up and sprinkles began.  We experienced the heaviest rain and strongest wind on the first night.  The sound of the wind roaring through the trees reminded us of the sounds of the surf when we camped by the ocean.  I was glad I recently repaired gaps in some areas of caulking around the Fan-Tastic Fan.  By morning, raindrops were glistening on the trailer, along with a few leaves, and many pine needle clusters were scattered over the truck.dsc_0005-safari-raindrops.jpgActually it rained heavier along the coast, shattering the previous rain record for October 6, set in 1912.  As the skies cleared, we noticed that there seemed to be more sky and less trees than the last time we were here.  William Heise County Park, near Julian (apple pies), CA, is set in the Cuyamaca Mountains and mostly covered with acres of oak, pine, and cedar trees.  More frequent rains this season have resulted in larger acorns, in the living trees.  But we noticed that oak trees are dying.  One of our favorite trees was this massive, native California Black Oak Tree up the hill from our campsite.dsc_0059-great-oak-tree-2009.jpgIts canopy was thinning last year, as seen in this photo, but now it has been reduced to a sad stump.dsc_0015-great-oak-stump-2010.jpgAs I continued my midday walk, the camp host came by in his golf cart and I asked him about the cutting of the trees.  “Yes, they’ve had to cut down about 25 trees this past summer because of some kind of beetle borer,” he said.  “Sad,” I say, “That’s decreasing the value and beauty of this park, and I’m now seeing houses on nearby hills that were once screened by the trees.”  I continue on and noticed a sign posted on the campground restroom building: “DON’T MOVE FIREWOOD”.dsc_0034-dont-move-firewood.jpgAccording to this San Diego Union-Tribune/signonsandiego.com article, “Voracious oak-killing beetle reaches suburban San Diego“, the gold-spotted oak borer was probably imported here by firewood transported from Mexico or Arizona in the 1990s and has killed more than 20,000 oaks, which adds fuel for wildfires, lowers property values, decreases the aesthetic value of parks and communities, negatively impacts the ecosystem (acorns are a source of food for wildlife such as deer, turkeys, and woodpeckers), presents a hazard to campsites (some sites had to be closed), and is costly to contain.  This is part of a larger problem across the western United States and Canada.dsc_0022-hilltop-mansion-revealed.jpgAs Sting says, “How fragile we are“… including Earth and all of its treasures.

Tiki time in the mountains

Temperatures are rising in our nearby deserts with current average highs over 100o, so it was time to catch the mountains before they also become too hot for us.

dsc_0038-flag-day-in-the-mountains.jpg Our F-250 easily towed our 23′ Safari up from the Pacific Coast to our favorite wooded mountain campsite in the Cuyamaca Mountains, near Julian, California, at an elevation of 4200′.

Julian, located in a mixed pine-oak woodland, was the seasonal home to the Native American Kumeyaay people, who were displaced after the American Civil War by displaced Confederate Veterans from Georgia.

We strategically backed the trailer into the sun for the solar panels and parked the unhitched truck near the shade, where we and the Corgis often relaxed and chilled out during the heat of the day.

We raised the American flag high in honor of Flag Day.

We bring a large cooler filled with food and ice on every trip, which we usually take out of the truck and place in a shady area.  But it periodically had to be moved out of the moving sun or protected from night creatures, such as raccoons in this case.  So we found that it is more convenient (and the ice lasts longer) to leave it in the truck cargo area with the Retrax locking cover retracted for ventilation and cover it with a large truck sun shade to keep it cool.

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Since we had five nights reserved here, I brought along our REI dome tent that I had brought out here two years ago and set it up to relive the joys of tent camping and being close to nature and the elements, at least for a night or two (this might become an annual event).  The Tiki, which we renamed “Iz“,  also came along to enjoy the elements, especially the sun, which almost always makes him high.

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This campground is known for its wild turkeys, and one morning I found one that likes to take a walk in the sun.

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Later in the day, jumbo shrimp, bell peppers, onions, and leftover salsa fresca were stir fried on the Volcano 2 stove using the propane attachment.  As the sun set, we sipped Kahlúa in half and half cream in sherry glasses while we were entertained by bats dancing through the sky in search of insects.

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Tasha and I spent two nights in a row in the dome tent guarded by Iz.

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We listened to the evening breezes rustling through the hillside forest trees, sounding like the ocean surf at times, as the first quarter of the Strawberry Moon slowly descended the western night sky.

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We awoke at first light to the chorus of morning bird songs as our midsummer night’s dreams lingered in our minds.

Cuyamaca Indian summer

The summer heat is over and the seasons are changing quickly now, so for us it means the beginning of our fall and winter camping season.  Although it is still too hot for us in the desert, we traditionally enjoy experiencing the fall harvest season in our local Cuyamaca Mountains.

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At the end of last season our trailer got its annual major washing, which was followed with a thorough washing of all trailer awnings.  Just prior to starting our new season, I applied 303 Aerospace Protectant to the seals of our Fan-Tastic Vents, windows and doors to protect them and keep them from sticking.  Then we refilled our propane tanks and checked the operation of all equipment, including the hot water heater, water pump, stove, oven, furnace and refrigerator.  Vent screens were cleaned and the trailer was vacuumed.  Tire lug nut torque checks were done along with checking air pressure and installing tire pressure sensors.  The fresh water tank was topped off and our solar panels were cleaned in anticipation of camping without hookups in the Cuyamacas.

Larry prepared the menus and food, including the baking of the buttery, rich and very delicious French apple tart seen below in its tart pan just out of our home oven to tie in with the seasonal apple harvest festival celebrated in nearby Julian, Ca.

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Indian summer is an expression indicating sunny and warm weather in autumn when the leaves are turning color, often after the first frost, and before the first snowfall.  Days before our outing, Julian’s morning low was 31 degrees and we departed in the midst of a hazardous weather outlook for all of extreme southwestern California.  But within two days we experienced Indian summer in the mountains.

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Besides the periodic California Santa Ana fires, another drama is being played out here and other areas of San Diego’s East County.  Thousands of oak trees are dying from infestations of the gold-spotted oak borer, which may have spread under bark of firewood.  The public has been urged not to transport firewood in or out of the county until more is known about this problem.  Even as we were camping, we could hear dead and/or hazardous trees and undergrowth being cut and turned into chips for mulching areas of the park.

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Some of these oak trees were quite large, such as the one below seen on my morning walk.

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Also seen during my morning walk were a Rio Grande Turkey hen and her two fledglings emerging into a clearing.

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The fledglings foraged while the hen kept a sharp eye on me.

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It had been chilly when I left the trailer for my walk, but when I returned, freshly baked Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits greeted me, along with a very warm trailer (we found no need to turn on the furnace on chilly mornings when anticipating baking with the oven).

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One of a set of small, battery operated LED flickering tea lights (seasonal item Larry found at Costco) is seen in the votive holder above.

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By the afternoon we experienced the Indian summer temperature of 80 degrees.  We used our new Endless Breeze 12-volt fan for the first time and Larry reports that it worked beautifully.

This fan is made by Fan-Tastic Vent and is available at Camping World (we ordered ours online from Fan-Tastic Vent).

It plugs into our trailer’s interior DC outlet.  Maximum current draw is reported to be 3 amps (easily supplied by our solar panels).  It also comes with clips for attaching to pet crates.

Our fall harvest/Halloween dinner table setting included pumpkins, Indian corn (also called maize), a turkey-shaped wicker basket containing Pineapple Guava, and a floral display of Plumeria (guava and Plumeria are from our yard).  The Pineapple Guava is sweet and juicy and is especially enjoyed by our pug, Pau Hoa.

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And so during this golden fall harvest season, we are thankful to be able to return to and experience our beautiful parks with our loved ones, whether we are vividly awake… or enjoying Golden Slumbers.  

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Happy New Year galaxy travelers

We rested and feasted while home for the holidays and kept warm and dry while our space ship enjoyed a natural washing from the recent winter rain storms along the coast of Southern California. Gas prices have now hit a five-year low and our sun now smiles down on the great Southwest, just in time for us to drive to Dos Picos Regional Park for a pre-New Year’s celebration with fellow galaxy travelers, Terry and Greg from Tucson, Arizona.

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We brought Larry’s homemade lentil soup with chicken, sausage and bacon, along with pork tamales, and chocolate biscotti.  The weather was on the cool side, but the food and hot tea warmed us up.

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(Sadie, their blond cocker spaniel, sits next to Larry, while Annie, a black cocker spaniel sits under the table, Greg is wearing the ball cap and Terry is wearing the yellow shirt.)  Terry (sometimes known as Tucson Terry) is known on Airstreamforums as TBRich where he features his travel thread “AZBAMBI… On the Road Again…“.  He also maintains his web site of the same name, which features a detailed log of their travels along with a plethora of beautiful and colorful photos. Through AZBambi Decors, Greg and Terry help others customize and personalize their Airstream interiors by making custom slip covers for the dinette, along with curtains, bedspreads, window valances, pillow shams and throw rugs. Greg made the new dinette cushion slip covers for the Luhrs’ seen here.

After lunch I enjoyed hiking the Nature Trail of Dos Picos Regional Park, located in San Diego County. Dos Picos is Spanish for “two peaks” (which are nearby) and is in a small valley filled with oak trees and surrounded by ranch land and steep rocky slopes. The Ipai (Kumeyaay) Native Americans lived here 7000 years ago. They gathered the abundant oak acorns and ground them into meal. The wide range of habitats supports birds, coyotes, foxes, possums, skunks, and raccoons. Due to the recent rains, moss grows abundantly on the rocks in shady areas.

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Along the trail I spotted a boulder that looked like a large skull.

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Snow covered the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distance.

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We re-grouped and spent the afternoon chatting.

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We talked about everything… their new interior LED overhead lights, fabrics, cushions, accessories, camping, traveling, cooking and food,  pets and even politics.  Well, New Year’s is a good time for A Year in Review – 2008… and a good time to raise our concerns for national lands and the wildlife therein (as recently done by writer and photographer, Bert Gildart)… and a time for contemplating New Year’s resolutions.  As darkness descended we talked about the Man in the Maze symbol, often used in the American Southwest by Hopi silversmiths.  According to O’odham oral history, this design depicts experiences and choices we make in our journey through life.  Greg then showed us his watchband with two A-Man-in-the-Maze gold and silver jewelry pieces made by Jason Takala (of the Hopi tribe) who specializes in Hopi Overlay Jewelry.

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I seem to recall seeing that symbol and title used somewhere else… let’s see.

We said our “See you on the road” to Terry and Greg and attempted to return to home base, but found ourselves repeatedly going in circles through the dark maze of the campground until a Park Ranger led us from darkness to the light of the Ranger’s Station at the park entrance.  Tomorrow we will reactivate the mother ship, recalibrate the flux capacitor and continue preparations for traveling to a warmer climate to greet the sun, travelers, and the new year.

Today Terry and Greg moved to William Heise County Park near Julian, CA.  I just received their report that it is cold, 35 degrees. (Current weather in Julian: temperature is 33 degrees and will drop to 22 degrees by midnight). Terry reports that the campground looks like an active lumber cutting camp with freshly bulldozed mud banks and torn up remains of trees”. He said the ranger reported that the heavy snow there earlier in the week had brought down many limbs, branches and whole trees! Hang in there, Terry and Greg, the weather in Anza-Borrego will be 70 degrees when we rendezvous there on Tuesday, and sunny through the week, which should be topped off nicely by the Quadrantids meteor shower during the pre-dawn hours of January 3.

Happy New Year! Galaxy Travelers and everyone, everywhere… Let’s toast to the New Year with champagne… or grapefruit juice… and Drive the Cold Winter Away!

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Cuyamaca spirits rising

Despite the Red Flag warnings, we returned last week to William Heise County Park near Julian, CA., in anticipation of the full moon lighting up the night sky, and we were not disappointed. As others may be about to winterize their trailers, we are just starting our camping season and will follow the sun, moon and seasons, somewhat like our local Native American Kumeyaay Indians did in finding the most comfortable sites to set up camp, ranging from the mountains to the desert and down again to the coast.

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This park is in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Cuyamaca is a Spanish corruption of the Kumeyaay phrase “Ekwiiyemak”, meaning roughly, “the place where it rains”. The Indians had seasonal mountain camps near streams and springs where acorns and pine nuts were plentiful. The Kumeyaay Nation lived in this and other areas of San Diego County for at least 10,000 years before the arrival of Spanish and other European settlers. San Diego County has more Native American Indian reservations than any other county in the United States. Richard Carrico, professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University, is the author of Strangers in a Stolen Land, (Sunbelt Publications, 3rd edition, July 31, 2008).

Shortly after we set up camp and ate dinner, the moon rose and lit up our trailer and truck.

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The stars are hard to see in the above picture, but the visual clue that this is actually night (and the reflected light is really moonlight and not sunlight) is the light coming out of the trailer windows. (By the way, the refrigerator vent is propped open to help the fan do a more efficient job… details of this can be seen here.) This and the other night images seen in this article were taken with our Nikon D40 camera set to the new feature, Auto (Flash off) Mode, useful in situations where the use of a flash is undesirable.

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Click on the image to enlarge it and see the stars. All of these night shots were also done with the camera and its heavy 18-200 mm lens supported and stabilized by the Slik heavy-duty Pro 700DX tripod.

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Sleeping under the stars…

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By the way, other than resizing, there was no image editing or manipulation in any of these images. The images were directly loaded into the iPhoto program of our MacBook Pro, resized and uploaded to this article.

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We traditionally celebrate the fall harvest season by eating apple pie. The nearby town of Julian celebrates Apple Days from September 15 to November 15. Also shown here is a pumpkin, carefully hand picked from the market (rather than the field of spikes) and maize (not to be confused with maze).

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Let us toast to the spirit of the season…

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And to the spirits of the sky and land and nature…

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And to Native Americans and all peoples of the world…

May we live in peace and harmony with a respect for life in all of its variations and life styles…

May we focus on the positive and inclusiveness

Let our spirits rise as we listen to our hearts… and Native American music.