Red Flag warning

I apprehensively watched the news last Tuesday morning as fires raged in Los Angeles and San Diego County on the morning of our fall camping trip to our favorite campground (William Heise County Park) in the Cuyamaca Mountains near Julian, CA. I checked on road information with Caltrans Highway Information Network (CHIN) and found that our planned route, Interstate 8, was closed to trucks and high-profile vehicles at Alpine due to a High Wind Advisory. So with no fires near Julian and an open route through Ramona, we made our way towards Julian, where fires last year caused the evacuation of the town.

Every fall, Santa Ana winds sweep dry air across Southern California, raising the fire danger and triggering Red Flag warnings. A Red Flag Warning was in effect on the day we arrived, so we were not surprised to see the “No Open Flames” signs everywhere, including one in each fire ring.


We learned from the San Diego County ranger on duty that the “No Open Flames” here means the obvious no camp fires, charcoal fires, and candles. He said though that gas stoves were o.k., which worked for us as we had already planned on deep frying potatoes, fish and crab cakes…


And the candles were kept inside the trailer…


While our Safari bathed in the light of the full Hunter’s Moon


(Highlights of night images taken here with the Nikon D40 set at the new feature, Auto (Flash off) mode will appear in my next article.)

We thoroughly enjoyed camping here Tuesday through Friday before the weekend crowd arrived. The days were spent waking to the sounds of crows and woodpeckers, taking quiet walks with the dogs (on the park roads, not trails), hiking (without the dogs), and catching up on reading, such as Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Mark Twain, Airstream Life, and Spooky Campfire Tales.


Celebrating the fall harvest season at this campsite will continue in my next article…

Summer flowers and turkeys…

Or Getting Cereus. So after a strong cup of coffee, I was off to hunt turkeys and flowers in the Cuyamaca Mountains.


With shooting equipment in hand, I quietly approached the direction of turkeys gobbling in the brush. A turkey hen and her poults emerged in the sunlight.


300 of these Rio Grande Turkeys were introduced here in 1993. There are now up to 20,000 or more in the area.

I continued my morning hunt in William Heise County Park for wildlife or at least wild flowers, and was rewarded by the Lavender Monkey-Flower


and the Wild Rose, Rosa virginiana


A festive meal, prepared by Larry, of pork-shrimp bean curd skin rolls, served with beignets rounded off the day. See his cooking page on our web site Dim Sum Safari Express.

We hitched up and returned home in time to see the Queen of the Night, the Night-Blooming Cereus (Cereus greggii) profusely bursting with sweetly fragrant blooms during the night of Summer Solstice.



I then sat back and listened to turkey-in-the straw as I contemplated my next article, “Getting hitched”.

Tent connections and options

Is having a tent a contradiction to the mission of the Airstream? Isn’t that why we got the Airstream trailer? In the old days we enjoyed the adventure of camping, but sometimes it seemed more like work than fun. When we camp with the Airstream, we have just about all of the comforts of home, contained within a double-walled, well-insulated aluminum cocoon that is relatively easy to transport and set up.


In the morning of our departure on our latest camping trip (to Julian, CA.), I read Rich Luhr’s timely and thought provoking Tour of America posting, “Tent economics“. Knowing that our destination, William Heise County Park, has wonderful tent sites established within the non-hook up sites that we reserve for our trailer, I scrambled to locate our 20 year-old REI tent, Therm-a-Rest pads and mummy sleeping bags that were collecting dust in the rafters of our garage.


This silver domed tent looked right at home along with its mother ship in this setting.


It also helped me make a connection with this historical setting in the Cuyamaca Mountains where Native Americas once lived in domed, thatched huts until displaced by the explorers and exploiters. We arrived just as Julian was about to celebrate Julian Gold Rush Days, and it was an apropos time to visit the Eagle-High Peak Gold Mine.

The tent also has a historical connection with our local area in the form of the Tent City in Coronado, which provided less expensive summer quarters for visitors to the world famous Hotel del Coronado and nearby beach between 1900 and 1916.

A bit more austere than the interior of the Coronado tent summer quarters (linked above), our tent has comfortable mummy sleeping bags on Therm-a-Rest pads and a hanging candle lantern.

As Rich pointed out in his article, the tent can be seen as an extension of the mission of the Airstream. Other Tour of America postings show how the tent can open up adventure and fun options. (By the way, our first tent was the REI Mountain Shuttle similar to the tent seen here.)

Beyond merely evoking nostalgic memories, the tent enabled me to be closer to nature and experience the magic of the night, the sounds of the crickets, the smells and sounds of the smoldering campfire, the howls of coyotes, the moon and twinkling stars shining through tree branches rustling in the wind, and the inevitable opening chorus of flitting birds at dawn.


The tent offers variety to our camping experience. At times it could be an economic alternative, a change of pace, a guest bedroom, and a quiet spot for a moment of privacy, among other possibilities. It will be fun to continue to photograph the domed beauty of the tent and Airstream in a variety of settings.


It could also be a place to play the ukulele.


The bottom line is that the tent facilitates connecting with the environment, while providing more options for having fun with the Airstream.

Eureka! Gold found in Julian!

We returned to William Heise County Park, located near Julian, California, which started as a gold mining camp in 1870 at the northern end of the Cuyamaca Mountains and the southern slope of Volcan Mountain. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the town is about 50 miles northeast of San Diego. We brought our Airstream trailer and REI tent (which will be featured in my next article) here, just as Julian was about to celebrate its annual Gold Rush Days.


Native American Indians lived in the area 7000 years ago. 19,000 were estimated to be here at the time of the Spanish conquest starting in 1769. They lived in 85-90 seasonal campsites, following the seasonal temperature variations (as we do), and the ripening of major plants and availability of other food sources, they moved from the coast to the mountains and back. Less than 100 years later, the 1860 census lists only 2,807 Native Americans still living in San Diego County.

In 1869 A. E. (Fred) Coleman, a former slave, was living with his Native American wife and eleven children near Volcan Mountain when he watered his horse and noticed gold glittering in the creek. The trick is to follow the presence of gold particles upstream in hopes of finding the source of the gold. This is a form of placer mining.


The following year, Confederates from Georgia, Drury Bailey, his brothers James and Frank, and his cousins, Mike and Web Julian, made the first gold quartz discovery. Drury D. Bailey then laid out the town and named it Julian City after his cousin Mike Julian. The gold rush was on, bringing a divergent mass of humanity, including Blacks and Chinese. Chinese workers, who had recently built the Central Pacific Railroad, came into the area in search of work. Some of the other miners resented their presence and killed them in fights.

Two of the gold quartz mines registered in 1870 were the Eagle and High Peak Mines, which are currently open to the public. A trip to the mines is like going back in time. Here gold was found in quartz veins that formed over millions of years as sedimentary deposits were pushed upward forming our mountains, while immense pressures forced molten gold-bearing material up into tiny fissures as the earth’s crust cooled.


I unhitched and arrived at the Eagle-High Peak Mine with our new Nikon D40 for a tour and photo shoot (No video taking is permitted)…


As our tour guide took us in, he warned us to be careful not to bump our heads on the occasional low ceiling areas. We noticed that it quickly became darker, cooler and more silent. He pointed out the miners’ tools, maps, candle headlamps, and other gear along the way. Midway through the mine, he invited us to sit down on a bench as he turned off all of the lights to show us how dark it really was in there! After a pause, he seemed to be fumbling for his light and as I was about to reach for my Petzl LED Headlamp from my vest pocket, he turned on a pencil-thin beam of light from his laser penlight and directed it up to the ceiling as he pointed out the tiny specks of minerals that were floating in the air. He then told us how holes were drilled for dynamite charges that blasted out sections of rock at a time. Just before the fuse was lit, the miners would hear the shout of “Fire in the hole“, and would run down and jump in a side hole in the mine and wait for the blast to occur, which was sometimes unpredictable if reed fuses were used.


The blast broke off gold-bearing quartz rocks…


That were hauled out of the mine in carts on rails.


The quartz rocks were then taken to the stamp mill, where heavy steel weights (stamps) pounded day and night, pulverizing them into fine particles which were washed through screens and bathed in mercury and then cyanide to extract the gold.


When gold was first found in California, some shouted “Eureka“, and it is now our state motto.

California Mountain Camping

On Earth Day we arrived for four nights of non-hook-up camping at our favorite mountain campground, William Heise County Park, near Julian, California. During this second year of camping with our Airstream, we are learning to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons and the variety of topographies and micro-climates that are within a two-to-three hour drive from our home in San Diego. This is becoming increasingly important to us as the price of fuel sky-rockets, leading some to wonder, “Is this the beginning of the end?”


So at this time of year, as our nearby deserts heat up, we find comfort and interest in the Cuyamaca Mountians. The air was still cool, the flowers still blooming, and the turkeys were frolicking when we returned to William Heise County Park.



This park is located near Julian, a former California gold-mining-boom-town, and now a quaint apple-growing center, visited by many people, especially during the fall Apple Days and Bluegrass Festival. Occasionally, it is also visited by the Plague Doctor.

This area is also plagued by wildfires, especially during the Santa Ana wind conditions prevalent in late summer and early fall. The October 2003 wildfires burned 70% of William Heise Park. Seven miles of pleasant, wooded loop trails provide opportunities to follow the stages of re-forestation that occur naturally after fires.


During this second year of camping, we are also learning to keep an eye on naturally loosening screws in our Airstream. On this outing, Larry heard something drop as he was closing a window. The tiny hex screw that holds the gray plastic knob on the window-opening-arm-bracket had fallen out and was luckily found.


Last year Larry assembled two bags of essential tools, which included two sets of hex keys (also known as Allen wrenches) of various sizes. Larry used the 1/16th inch hex key to screw it back in and tighten all of the other window knob screws which had begun to loosen.


This underscores the importance of making and maintaining an essential tool bag.