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Sunday, October 23, 2011

TriTip with Chimichurri Sauce and Corn/Okra Saute

I admit it has been quite a while since I have done a food related Item but I woke this morning the urge to whip up something unique, something I've never done before, and something I could Grill.

I scoured the ads and found that Sprouts had TriTip Roasts on special and being I already had some cilantro from some guacamole I had made the day previous decided to whip up a chimichurri sauce as well just for the heck of it. Perusing the net I found an interesting dry rub using cardomin, cumin, paprika, garlic, and olive oil that made a wonderful rub which when adding the olive oil actually ended up being a paste.

It grilled wonderfully with me searing each side for 5 minutes, putting on a smoke box with pecan chips, and finishing it at about 325 for 30 minutes. As I was grilling...

The wife took it upon herself to do the side dish of sauteed corn and okra....why she decided to pull the okra card I am not sure but over dinner it did bring up the interesting topic that only people in mixed marriages probably discuss that was the category of "did you know the slimier the food the healthier it is." So with that in mind eating Okra, Nato, and Seaweed are all amazing nutritional food items.  So I ask you loyal reader-go out and but some nato and let me know what you think.

Anyhow, the savory earthiness of the herbs in conjunction with the juicy beef texture served as a very complimentary juxtaposition of the cool pungency served by the chimichurri sauce. It literally could not have been any better, Truth be told-I could have added more salt in the chimichurri sauce but other then that was a hit to be sure. Tomorrow we are going to use the slicer to cut the remaining tritip and make french dip sandwiches and I suppose I will use the remaining chimichurri to make Chimichurri Bisque, or Cream of Chimichurri soup. or fried wontons cooked in a chimichurri glaze. Suppose I probably dont need to go on but you get the idea.

For the record as well-thanks for all the kind words Ive gotten from readers of my blog. Was pleased as punch to see how many people I've touched in my 3 or 4 years of doing it. If you are new to the blog feel free to subscribe to our email service and get each new blog entry sent directly to your email. Aint technology grand. are some pics for your viewing pleasure.

The final creation....

Grilled Tri Tip...juicy and pink.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Concert Review-The B52s and the Lake Mission Viejo Experience

Somewhere east of the 5 freeway lays the man made body of water known as Lake Mission Viejo. Nestled between a bevy of upper class condos and homes it offers most amenities that most lakes offer in swimming, fishing, boating etc etc. Only difference being that Lake Mission Viejo is a private lake that one must be a member or, or know someone who is a member, to enjoy the facilities. Being a private lake offers certain benefits you will never find at other lakes....mainly in that you can bring anything you want to the lake provided its not in a glass bottle. The other benefit being the summer concert series that in the past has seen acts like the Doors, Randy Newman, Dionne Warwick, Glenn Campbell and others playing for the members and there guests in what can be best described as a “cozy” environment with crowds probably not more then 5000 or so max. Tonight's act was the B-52s whose anthemic Rock Lobster gets played on JACK FM about every 15 minutes or so. Walking in front of the stage it looked a catalog for Trader Joes with older affluent couples drinking wine and full spreads of cheese, meat, lasagna, sushi and tons of other good looking food. Myself, dressed in an Old Navy Tshirt and a Hawaiian shirt over it withstood the urge to walk onto someones blanket and point at one of the food items and say “are you going to finish that?”

Concert days are spent with people showing at 6am where wristbands are issued and those whose numbers are called get first crack at laying their blankets on the lawn and from then on for the rest of the day having their claimed stake-can spend the rest of the day bbqing and doing familial things people do at the beach or the lake etc etc etc...the only difference being as it gets closer to concert time, particularly for larger acts, and in the case of the B52s for whatever reason saw the lake at maximum occupancy. And being we had no intention of getting early for good seats we were resigned to the fact that we would be sitting far beyond visual contact not only of the stage but the large monitor that showed the on stage goings on for those of us with angle seats.

The stars were aligned and it ended up that our party of 6 happened to all be good friends and good people, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Well stocked cooler in tow we staked a claim on the sand of the lake smack dab in front of Life Guard Station #2 where a small berm of sand in front of the tower meant the possibility of better viewing though most of us could care less. We stood around and listened to the opening act....a trio of rockabilly musicians with a buxom blonde female stand up bass player sharing vocals. We goofed on them a little bit thinking how when it comes to being a rockabilly band you simply take 50s Rock and Roll staples and add your words and when all else fails throw is some numbers aka “2-4-6-8-10 lets get to the top and rock again” ad nauseum set to the tune of Blue Suede Shoes or 20 Flight Rock. After listening to the guitar player struggle with a solo that was basically the same solo to Folsom Prison Blues we all laughed with the notion that you have no business being on stage as a guitar player when the Folsom Prison Blues solo presents a challenge. Truth be told we were so far there was a delay in drums and bass which gave the entire set a certain amount of dissonance that was hard to get your head around in an aural sense so it may have just been us. Later my brother recognized the blonde bass player as the same woman who works the boat rental counter at the lake which made it understandable in a way.

We sat and enjoyed the nice weather over a couple of cold ones while we debated the merits of joining the MV Lake Club and talked a bit more about the B52s and in particular what song they would open with as well as whether or not we could cajole lead singer Fred Schneider to play one of his solo songs...a little ditty called “Monster” that written as an homage to his penis with a late 80s video that had Schneider and an animated Penis dancing in unison not all too different then one of Paula Abduls videos from back in the day, then again I show my age and why I have dedicated precious RAM in my brain to remember Paula Abdul videos escapes me. 

We also spoke of DEVO and how there were some teenagers wearing DEVO shirts; Eddie told us of his recent DEVO concert experience and how while it was a great show he was fearing the lead singer would go into cardiac arrest and countering the story with a side segment of how he sat next to the owner of the Harbour House Cafe. The real comedic value came when Ed compared his look to that of sporting a wardrobe and hairstyle from the "Phil Spector Collection" and how the owner later reneged on his offer to comp his next meal at the Harbour House.

A few from our group went with my brother who had seen enough shows here to know that the band actually takes the stage via boat from the lake and a small bit of sidewalk they could stand and talk to the acts before taking the stage. They left for a bit as from the distance I heard a small smattering of applause and could indeed see the female band members making their way to the stage. They opened with some song I was unfamiliar with and once again being so far away from the stage meant the drums and some other aspects of the show on a 1 second tape delay. We listened and shot the crap as they launched into Private Idaho...a song we now link to our older brother Sean who now resides in that aforementioned state. Back in the early 80s listening to this song Im pretty sure he never thought he'd actually be living there.

By then the rest of the group came back with our friend Bill boasting about shaking Fred Schneider's hand and asking him to play “monster” followed by a few other barbs about his hand having to due with Purell and the overall bad idea of hand shaking due to hygiene concerns and some of Fred Scheiders rumored eh, hem.....lets just call them "not so well hidden proclivities."  After the good natured ribbing we all decided to simply go walk to the stage and employ the walk through area to get a better view even if it meant walking back and forth a few times. 

As we approached the main walk area there was a member of the club who choose poorly in the blanket wristband stake your claim game. Seems this fellow thought that placing his blanket directly behind the sidewalk walkway was the best area he could find for him and his family to see the show. Now keep in mind for those going from the entrance/snack bar to the overflow area with a majority of the concert goers were the sidewalk is the only way to get there-there is no other option. I could also see at the time at 6AM when the lake is completely devoid of people it probably seemed an ideal spot and this fellow also probably didnt think of the hundreds of people standing and walking in front of him completely blocking the stage view.  Seems this fellow as well thought that he could insist people not walk on the sidewalk and mind you given the overall maximum crowd tonight and given his overall George Costanza-ish look we actually found a substantial amount of humor value out of it....especially seeing his wife behind clearly unhappy with ensuing events. Soon he gave up the folly picking his blanket up clearly dejected but not before giving the stink eye to anyone in his general vicinity as one last act of defiance. 

There was a metal gate that was serving as a barrier between premium seats and us dopes standing around the perimeter. As the occupancy started becoming shoulder to shoulder we started a “tear down the wall” chant and oddly enough in a couple of minutes guards came and removed a few of the gates to let the people up close in the front/premium easier access to restrooms or whatever. As those people starting leaving the premium section, and a bevy of mainly heavy set older women with too much make up and bad boob jobs started pouring, we started chanting “Put the Wall Back, Put the Wall Back.”

We made the trek out for a better view of the stage and upon reaching center stage we went and stopped and watched the show as others did the same. A few security were asking people to keep moving a few yards down from us when I got the idea to simply start dancing anytime they came near. Think about it-is a guard more likely to stop a 40 something guy dancing or the 40 something guy simply standing? We spread the word to the rest of the group and we all snickered as anytime a guard came by the lot of us starting waving our arms in the arm or doing the standard white guy dance. After 10 minutes the guards simply gave up and other joined behind us. You may be able to see my spastic gyrations here if you look close enough...

Sure enough my suspicion was correct that in front of the stage the sound quality was very good and seeing the female members of the band harmonize was impressive-far more so then I would have imagined by listening to their records for the last 30 years. Looking around us it was literally a hodge podge of intoxicated 40 something woman all dancing about while their male companions had the worried “Should I dance? Should I do the head nod up and down? Should I simply Stand and show no emotion?” Not that I did a Neilsen study on it but it looked to me like most were choosing the latter which made the fact that our Motley Crew had no inhibitions whatsoever and were dancing, singing, pumping our fists, and doing bad Fred Schneiders impressions somewhat the life of the party as far as OC concert crowds go. The band belted out some of their best known songs and quite frankly I loved every minute of it considering I haven't owned any of their work since the mid 90s Cosmic Thing album. Even songs I hate like Love Shack had taken on some new life. They then busted into Planet Claire which was fantastic as not only have I always enjoyed that song but was dancing with 2 40something women who were enjoyed the concert as much as I was while there dates exchanged nervous glances while the crazy guy in the plaid hat and Hawaiian shirt did all of the quirky dance moves that the B52s were noted for back in the day. The song ended and me and the gang and our new found lady friends all high fived each other. Soon it was over...but not before the band feigned the end of the show and we went into the motions of clapping and chanting for more. Then after coming back to the stage and busting out Rock Lobster and maybe one other that was that; but not before a pretty good firework show ended the night in high flying fashion. The quality of the firework show is strangely magnificent given you have somewhat lowered expectations for the lake but they are very good. I speculate a member of the club probably owns a pyrotechnic/fireworks company. And once again, the company I was hanging with was fantastic....ThePatioMan, not only does fine patio work but knows how to have a great time at Lake Mission Vijo.

It was the best of was the worst of times. Our quick time warp to the early 80s(and mid90s for that matter) was over and going back to the wives and kids meant saying goodbye to our old friends and getting back to that pesky thing known as responsibility.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Horrors of the Taco Bell Taste Test

I got paid $25 bucks to eat 2 burritos today. You read that correctly-As part of Taco Bell "experimenting" with some new menu items I was selected to visit the Irvine Headquarters and take part in the program. The Taco Bell headquarters was big nice corporate building with plenty of big tvs that played nothing but Taco Bell Commercials over and over and over again. I was wondering if every 7 or 8 minutes they were going to show a 3 minute snippet of scenes from "How I met Your Mother" or "American Idol."

After herding our group into a very futuristic looking elevator we entered a room that was pretty much what you would expect in a test room with a row of 10 or so side to side cubicles(or in this case side-icles) with a cup of water, a saltine, and a door connected to the wall in which the people from behind would slide out the franchises latest concoctions and a computer monitor and keyboard where we could enter our thoughts on the various products. My Keyboard looked like it needed some cleaning and I secretly longed for a bottle of Purell or a Lysol Wipe. My computer at home looked cleaner and I've got 8 and 4 Year old Sons who regularly sneeze and cough on it as they play Club Penguin.

Burrito A- Your typical Taco Bell Style Burrito with ground beef, rice, and Cheese Whip. Yes thats what I refer to Taco Bell's cheese as. I am sure they refer to it as nacho creamy cheese sauce or some other bastardization of what in reality is probably the lowest grade cheese product one could possibly ingest. Being in Southern California why anyone in their right mind would prefer this over real grated cheese served everywhere else including Del Taco, the Bells main competitor, is rightfully well beyond my overall scope of reasoning. The Beef was good with a nice balance of spice and consistency but along with the aforementioned horror that that is the cheese sauce was also some Taco Bell rice which to me, had an overly fiberous grit like quality not too much different then vacuum packed precooked rice that requires no cooking at all. All in all pretty much what you'd expect from a bunch of Corporate Suits sitting in a conference room overlooking the 5 freeway and the Irvine Spectrum with a goal of "How can we create the most cost effective burrito using the rock bottom cheapeast ingredients yet make it minimally passable to the average high school student in California or average fast foot eater in the MidWest."

Burrito B came around and while they said they were looking for strictly quality of Beef questions, the second burrito had very little rice, much more corporate cheese product, and a meat that was much smaller in grain size with a higher water/liquid content. After a bite or two I decided this was very easily a burrito in which the filling could be simply eaten with a plastic spoon and at the end of the day the tortilla serving more as a delivery vessel then anything else. Who knows-the styrofoam cup on Cup of Noodles may have more flavor and very possibly could be a much healthier alternative. Burrito B also had a lot more Corporate Cheese Whip which once mingled with the smaller, watterier ground beef ended up being what one could best summate as "industrial beef and cheese product."

I used to be a Taco Bell fan back in the day but once again they are now clearly catering to a crowd with zero regard for flavor, authenticity, health factors, and pretty much anything that may remotely hit a small percentage higher then that of rock bottom. Im really surprised at this point why Taco Bell doesnt simply Co-op with AM/PM or 7/11 as the Nacho Cheese in any of those places really cant fall much lower then the Corporate Cheese Whip being served at Taco Bell. I could honestly make a better taco using ingredients from HomeTown Buffett-a franchise that makes no bones about catering to Seniors and boasting about their use of "For Industrial Use Only" Style of ingredients.

I almost envision a full blown gasoline tanker filled with nothing but corporate cheese whip with a dirty hose on the end of the tank, while a beer bellied guy in orange stained blue overalls gets out, flips the cover of a huge holding tank, and uses his dirty boot to hit the on/off switch while a stream of Corporate Cheese Whip fills the coffers of Taco Bell's cheese holding tanks around the Nation. Have you ever seen the guy who cleans out porta pottys? Same Principle, Same Result...only one guy takes **** out and the other puts **** in. On the bright side $25 bucks is $25 bucks. I figure after $10 bucks on ipecac and an enema Ill still have $15 to go to Albertos with.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

TJs Wine Home Run and another Beef Palace plug....

Was in Huntington Beach the other day to visit my parents and stopped by Trader Joes. I picked up a bottle of BearBoat Syrah for 3.99 based on a workers recommendation. Did some homework and found this is wine is going for $20 bucks on some wine sites.  Opened and aerated it and it without question is a homerun of a wine bargain at $3.99 a bottle. At $20 you would think it was a good bottle for the price point; at $10 you would think it a best $3.99 get it, get it now, get it in vast quantities.

Black Pepper Sausage.....el yum yum
Also stopped by Beef Palace to pick up a chicken to chicken in town and the butcher comped me one of their black pepper sausage. Check out the pic....I will be buying more sausages in the future. $5.99 a pound is well worth it for this quality of meat but thats not surprising since the Beef Palace rocks.  Click the pic to see the details...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lopez Lake Epilogue-The Scenic Route isn't always so......

continued From....

Lopez Lake Day 3

We woke up in the AM and once again it seemed colder then the night was easy to take knowing we wouldnt have to do it again and besides-living in CA cold means anything below 55degrees. We packed up the family truckster, filled up the gas tank, stopped by Mcdonalds and away we went South on the 101 looking forward to stopping by the Santa Barbara pier for a chance to stretch the legs and grab a bite before making our way home.

Making the exit Tomoko mentioned she wanted to see the Santa Barbara Mission and on the way we also saw the Museum of Natural History in the area as well. Passing the Mission we both loved the dual spires but also thought it may not be as fun for the kids as the museum. Alex mentioned since we already went to the mission in San Juan Capistrano that he wanted to see the museum.

We parked, paid, and 3 hours later left with me looking at my watch thinking "we still need to go to the pier, eat, and then drive back....which means basically Id be getting home at 8pm instead of our 4-5 pm time. Oh well....nothing wrong with prolonging the vacation I suppose.

We stopped at the mission where I snapped some pics and left to find the pier. I always like Santa Barbara pier if not for the end section of the pier were the pier designers felt maybe it wasn't so important to have things like rails to separate people on the pier from falling into the ocean.  And now that I had kids made it clear and in no uncertain terms that no one was to run on the pier or even walk in front of us for that matter.

Driving through town It was a bit different then I last remembered with more homeless and panhandlers then I remembered. As a matter of fact I had to tip my cap to the creativity of some of them as they had a variety of crudely assembled carnival style games on the sand below the pier. There were target games with a bullseye with a piece of cardboard reading "Hit the Bullseye!" as well as a tripod made of sticks and an empty can with the same throw the coin type promotion. Alex couldnt take not playing one of the games so decided this was the opportunity to throw a japanese coin he had with him.  I've always said its never too late to give a homeless person a lesson in international currency. I considered trying to hit the bullseye and then demanding some type of stuffed animal or the contents of the cup that marked the bullseye.

Walking by the seafood restaurants and in particular the Fish n Chip stand almost turned my stomach given the previous days foray in the realm of ultra rich chowder and slightly reheated fish and chips later in the day. And once again no family walk would be complete without an inviting candy or ice cream shop to beckon them in. At the end of the pier we watched some of the fisherman and overhead some of them bemoaning the lack of fish on this day.

Leaving the pier we were lucky to stumble across a pizza place that was built from an old light house. From the outside you would have thought it a bit more upscale but looking at the menu found we still had 15  minutes left to order the salad, pizza, drink lunch special.  The kids were very and all you can drink soda. I was happy-I could get a nice salad(I always tend to yearn for roughage when camping) and a place to sit. Wont give a full on review but loved the interior of the place but could have done without the moss green littered filled drainage ditch that the patio offered some not so stunning views of.

Back on the 101South I decided it may be fun to take the scenic coastal route through Ventura expecting it be to similar to the drive from Seal Beach, through HB, through Newport and Laguna....truth be told the drive lacked scenery and large swaths of coast as well for that matter. Driving through Ventura I was shocked to see how shabby it was and not to mention the plethora of thrift and 2nd hand shops as well as homeless everywhere...I mean everywhere. It looked like at one time it was probably a cool little city but it clearly had seen better days-it was like Frisco only with better parking. My older brother lived in this city once upon a time and driving through imagined what life might have been like had I grew up here instead of Huntington.

We stayed on the coastal drive and finally started to see some coast but not before stopping by another mcdonalds for an iced coffee as the post lunch carb intake was dragging down my energy levels. Fueled by the coffee we continued our coastal jaunt and once again saw very little coast and I really began to question exactly what definition of "scenic" city planners had read when coming up with this little drive on Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue. Finally I had enough and lamented my decision and coming across a large street I  recognized from the map made a left and was treated to another wonderful, scenic trip through downtown Oxnard. Seeing the signs for Oxnard, Tomoko said "dont they have a famous college here?" I spent the next 10 or so minutes going some of the slight regional between Oxford and Oxnard. Later we both laughed when we actually did stumble across Oxnard College. I wondered if they had a rowing team.

We drove and drove and drove East hoping to find the onramp. After a while I began to wonder if something had gone horribly wrong and rolled the dice by asking the goth girl in the car next to us if I was on the right track....she put down the chicken wing she was eating and confirmed we were indeed on the right track but not before first spitting a bit of cartilage from the hot wing into her hand and washing it down with a Diet Soda. Nice Gal though....

Finally after our scenic trip through Hades....I mean Oxnard we found the highway again and I was never so proud to find it. Reminded me of the time as teenagers we drove to LA on a 1/4 tank of gas and on the return trip with the gas gauge on E and the light on-saw the sigh that read "Now Leaving Compton" as the engine continued to purr and take us back home.

And then as we entered LA were lucky enough to hit what remained of rush hour traffic-was a journey well planned and played immaculately. I began to feel the car seat actually conforming to the curve of my ass and though it wasnt hot-the lack of air circulation meant some parts of the anatomy about as steamy as a Florida
swamp. I couldnt wait to get home and have a bowl of cold cereal and a lukewarm shower-90 or so minutes later....I did just that.
The Wash Basin from Mission Santa Barbara...I figured in Black and White and a funky angle it might look cool...
the jury is still out.

Fountain.....yeah, just a fountain.

The Museum was having a special program about butterflys....this was the best of them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lopez Lake Day 3-Pismo Beach and all the clams that you can eat

Continued from

I awoke cold, stiff, slight back ache, a stuffy nose, and couldnt wait to feel the warmth of the sun bask upon my glorious face. Seems like each night we spent the colder it got and once again our tent while spacious is better suited towards desert and higher temperature camping as opposed to some of the lower temps we've experienced as of late.

I got up and didnt bother with the japanese coffee contraption and headed straight for the instant coffee...even taking the time to heat some warm milk up as well as I heard the wife waking up and thought she would appreciate the gesture. With the task of making a Warming, Soothing, Caffeinated Beverage out of the way I started making breakfast using the leftover fajitas, the rest of the pre cooked hashbrowns, and then adding as many eggs as could fit in the skillet. Mighty tasty but once again camp food always tastes better then food cooked at home for whatever reason.

Bellies full, off we went to the grand journey to Pismo Beach taking the same route we took to hit the groceries the previous day. Hitting Pismo, Tomoko mentioned how much the area reminded her of Seal Beach and how it had a similar vibe. I would agree a bit but sadly Pismo reminded me more of Huntington before development and Starbucks entered the picture. We strolled down Pomeroy Ave and took in all the shops they offered and meandered past the Splash Cafe where we had planned to lunch. I took in the cafe and couldnt wait to sample the world famous clam chowder once again but having eaten not an hour earlier none of us were quite ready. I was hoping to take the Kids to arcade in  one of the buildings but sadly it was closed on this weekday. I saw through the window and apart from a few ticket dispensing type games looked like they had all the same games they had when I last visited in 1999 or whenever it was.

We made it to the pier and the kids moaned a bit wanting to play in the sand and water but pointing out that the pier wasnt nearly as long as Huntington's Beach they went with...Im pretty sure them seeing a snack bar on the end had something to do with it. I looked north towards Morro Bay and envisioned what living life in this area must be like and remember the strange conversation with a fellow camper the day previous who mentioned he lived in Grover Beach tried to put aside the notion that not all people in this area had the unique manner of speech and odd look in his eye. He asked where we from and when I mentioned OC and growing up in Huntington Beach he said "I was carjacked one time in Huntington Beach and almost killed." I thought of replying with "well I hope it wasnt anybody I know" but decided not best to joke with an odd stranger in a semi-desolate part of a San Luis Obispo County campground.

For some reason this stand reminded me of a Fish n Chip stand you'd see in  London...I guess however since Ive never been to  London.
Anyhow we walked the pier and I snapped some picture of the snack bar, a pelican sitting on the pier railing while a fisherman sat with pole in the water not 3 feet over, and a heavy set older latina women who I snapped for no particular reason.

Pelican and Fisherman co-exist in this harmonious world of wonder.
Can we have Peace on Earth?
We enjoyed the view and slowly made our way back to the shore to take the kids to the sand under the guise of digging for Pismo Clams. Reaching the sand Tomoko and I commented on how the grain of the sand was akin to baby powder...arguably the softest beach sand Ive ever felt. I wanted to lay out a huge blanket and catnap under the sun but what we want to do and what we can do are two very different things with an 8 and 4 year old.

My attempt at a Panorama Shot.
We watched the kids play at the shore and start digging feverishly to try and find a clam while tomoko and I enjoyed the sound of the ocean, the soft gentle breeze, and the brief respite from the harsh rustica offered via campsite. Finally we decided to head to the Splash Cafe.....and it did not disappoint.

In spite of the 10-15 minute wait outside we found a table and ordered 2 chowders, 1 Fish and Chips, a couple of sodas and 1 Fat Tire that Tomoko and I shared. The first bite of the chowder nothing short of pure unadulterated culinary bliss with a creamy smack in the face that countered nicely with the savory herb used in the chowder and the cool brine and texture offered by the shrimp and crab mixture. Alex talked about how good it was between bites and Tomoko said it was clearly the best chowder she had ever had. The Fish and Chips were good as well with the exception of the Tartar Sauce which was nothing special....Almost tasted like your typical store bought brand of tarter sauce or put to even a more basic critique- miracle whip mixed with relish.  Since my Pantry Chef days of working at Delaneys I expect more a tarter sauce...I want bits of onion along with the occasional caper or two. All in all a small complaint as I am sure 90% of the people are ordering the chowder. Upon retrospect I would have liked to try their cocktail sauce as well. We left with belly full and ready to make the drive back to town to hang on main street.
Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl topped with Shrimp and Crab.....drool. 

This sign for Highway 1 looked better in Black and White then color.

Back on Grand Ave in Arroyo Grande we walked around the town a bit walking over one of the many historic bridges that cross the creek that flows over a deep ravine. We stopped at one bridge that a bronze historical marker on that denoted the bridge was built in 1918...but then washed away in the great storm of 23 and again in 64. The new bridge was a state of the art replica and built on conjunction with sponsorship of the local Der Weinerschitzel unit#123. Good Times.

Checking our watches we realized we were late for the in camp water slide. Doing a cost benefit/time analysis we decided it would be cheaper to simply take the kids to the local boomers for miniature golf. I found one up the road in santa maria via the cell phone app and after a short drive the 4 of us were golfing on what may be the worst kept boomers in California with the course littered with leaves and branches and a shortage of staff meant us waiting about 10 minutes before we saw anyone at the counter. Nonetheless we played and had a great time and gave Dustin a big boy sticker for coming 2nd overall. I found a wall poster that had an annoucement for boomers text club which I joined on the spot and received a message in seconds for a free popcorn. After another 10 minute wait we got our popcorn. Truth be told I really was just going to leave but Alex hearing about the popcorn would not let that be a possibility. I concerned on a couple of occasions simply walking behind the counter and getting my G D popcorn but wasnt sure about the example that would set for the kids. Finally we got it and as we has our cooler in the van already we all shared a big gatorade on the trip back to camp. 

Back at camp we wrapped our leftover Fish N Chips in Foil and threw them on the fire but it was certainly a case of the "In N Out Effect" in which the fries had a life span of about 5 minutes and any amount of time after meant consumption not recommended. Good thing it was our last night.

We got the kids to bed and once again Tomoko and I enjoyed watching the stars sans moon in one of california's least light polluted areas. As a matter of fact in the hour we sat looking at the sky we counted about 5 or 6 shooting stars between the two of us and I once again reminded myself that one day I need to learn how to properly work my telescope I was given as a gift. Ive tried it on a couple of occasions however never using a telescope only managed to see pitch black.

We each had a glass of wine and took it all in as it would be our last night of our journey with the ride back still to go.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 2 Lopez Lake

Continued from Solvang/Lopez Day 1

The next morning we got up and ate our pastries we had bought in Solvang and Tomoko had brought out some new japanese coffee contraption. It looked like a tea bag but you would tear off the top and attach it to the side of your cup pouring hot water into the top to make a nice cup of coffee. Of course being I had my big blue over indulgent american style coffee cup by the time I filled it and drank it didnt pack much of a punch....i threw in a couple of tablespoons of instant coffee to streghten it up a bit.

Those japanese think of everything...the hello kitty version should be out next month,

Down to the marina we went picking up some more firewood(Eucalyptus @$5 a bundle no less!) and inquired about renting a boat. Sadly they no longer rented the patio boats I remember and the women working the counter mentioned that the wind would make boating something better to do in the morning. I applauded her for her honesty and said No a couple hundred times as the Kids picked up anything in the market within reach asking “can we buy this, can we buy this, can we buy this.” I told alex the only thing I was going to buy him was the pouch of red man chewing tobacco they sold behind the counter....I don't think the woman behind the counter found it that amusing.

Back to the front desk we went as we had neglected to bring a trail map. At this point Alex spotted the first Wild Turkeys of our trip....about 10 of them to be exact. We snapped some pics and headed out to take what the trail map said was the most strenuous hike the park offered....much to the kids chagrin.

Yes....I have wondered what they taste like and if its legal. 

Being the trail started a good ½ mile from the campsite and we didnt know exactly how strenous the word strenuous was we took the liberty in parking in the closest camp site to the trailhead and being since there was only 1 family camping in the entire section of sites we figured it would be small potatoes and parked in a site by a large white water cooler.

Soon it became very apparent that strenuous meant strenuous not as an example of length but of height as the longer we hiked the trail the more sheer the angle of the hill became. I always use a hiking stick but its generally for show and protection in the event of god only knows what...but in this case, and trust me when I say it, but this was the first time the hiking stick actually came very much in handy the way up and down. As we climbed each hill there would be a slight turn and another hill that certainly did not sit well with Alex who may it well known in no uncertain terms. I finally told him that this was the highest hikable peak in the park and think of the accomplishment once we achieved reaching it...he mumbled something about roasting marshmallows and we journeyed on. Soon we finally reached the last peak and alas we were standing at the highest point of the park. The hike revealed the challenge from the top as the van looked like a mere blip by the water tower. There was a nice cool breeze and the views of the lakes on one side and the rustic farm on the other were fantastic. Somehow the conversation turned into how we yell “echo” in the US but in Japan they yell “Ya Ho.” I let the kids give an initial Ya Ho before stepping to the plate and letting out a bellow that earned high fives from the kids as my Ya Ho reverberated through the lake and valley. We all laughed and took in some water for the descent but not before Dusty answered natures call. I snapped a few pics that I will reserve for close family members only.

The View from the Top of the Mountain Facing East

The view of the lake from the top...look closely to the left of the water tower and you can see a tiny white
speck that is our minivan....and another tiny white speck of an irate camper wondering whose car that is
and why are they parked in his campsite.

Making the trip down the hill was much to steep to simple walk down...especially since I was wearing some old jogging shoes as opposed to actual hiking shoes or boots. After landing on my fanny and pulling Dusty up once or twice as well we finally make it down walking side step...on Tomoko suggestion. Worked like a champ!

As we got down closer to the trail head we noticed a family was actually in the campsite we parked at and were setting up camp. Kind of felt bad and started wondering if we were blocking them or god only knows what other inconvenience we may have caused and subjected them to. As we got back to the van I immediately apologized to the family who I knew must be regular campers as they were nice as can be. I offered the guy a cold japanese beer from the cooler as I know when I'm setting up camp they really tend to hit the spot. On the way back to camp Alex mentioned he must have really liked the beer as he made lip smacking sound after the first drink. Made me feel good...

That Tiny bit of trail at the very top was the highest hikable point in the park.
I was going to photoshop an arrow saying we were here but was way too much work.

We went back to camp and we were all hungry. Sadly while the kids and tomoko were content eating their japanese style of cup of noodles I had a can of sardines in and opened up a can of Bush's Grilling Beans. Later I spiced the beans up by adding some Snyders of Hanover Hot Wing Flavored Pretzel pieces to the beans which was quite delicious as it added a nice tough of spicey vinegar crunch to the smokey and somewhat soft texture of the beans. As this point I should add that the Hot Buffalo Wing Flavorer Snyder Pretzel Pieces is a fantastic snack and may be very close to my all time favorite snack that is Salt and Vinegar Boulder Kettle Chips. And no Im not getting paid to say that...but I wish I were.

We lazed around the site a little bit and then headed to the beach area of the lake. Wasnt sure what to make of the lake as on this trip it probably got no hotter then 80 degrees while we there and I was pretty sure the water temp was going to be semi cold. But as a dad Ive noticed that kids dont seem to have the cold water hangup that us adults do as we found a nice shady spot under a tree both kids went running and jumped into the shallow part of the lake. I went in after them and to my surprise wasnt too bad....still cold but not too bad. Not a jacuzzi but by that same token the brisk chill an ocean swim offers in spring. We looked at the buoy that separates the swim area from the other parts of the lake and I then decided to swim out to just like I did 12 or so years ago when I last swam there. Felt good and I only got a bit winded ¾ of the way back on the return trip when I rolled on my back and finished the remaining distance doing the back stroke.

As I got back to the shore and to the Kids I noticed a young latino couple getting into the water and the guy making the same faces I made getting in. Overhearing them I gathered that once I swam to the buoy that either the female said something to the guy or maybe he said it in some attempt at male bravado. Was funny though...I could tell the chill of the water, especially around a very temperature sensitive area of the male anatomy and the subsequent buoy swim vs the prospect of sitting at the shore on a soft blanket, in the shade, with a pretty young lady and a favorite beverage probably was higher on the wish list then making a 100 yard swim out to a marker buoy on a kids beach in semi frigid water. Good times.

Later we decided to go into town to get some fixuns for the fajitas and whatever else tickled our fancy. Making the trip to the other side of grand avenue was like going back in time. There was a movie theatre with 2....count 'em, 2 screens. One was showing the latest Tom Hanks and the other showing Winnie the Pooh. Yeah-Winnie the Pooh. The same DVD anyone with a kid 8 years or younger has in their collection was being played on the local theatre. In OC we have the multiplex-in Arroyo Grande they have a bi-plex with one screen dedicated to 50 year old Disney flicks. The grocery story was just like I remembered the midwest variety stores only difference being the produce had the areas the stuff was grown in. We picked up our goodies and went to a little bakery next door with the idea once again of getting some breakfast goodies. That idea lasted about ½ of the way back to the camp site as the kids got hold of the cookie bag and our breakfast snacks turned into our driving snacks just like that. We then got into fierce debate over the origins of the SnickerDoodle started largely by Alex asking if he could still eat a snickerdoodle despite him not liking Snickers due to the peanut factor.

We got back and started the fire and as luck would have it-the very first of the Eucalyptus log must have been filled with pitch/tar/oil or something because once it lit it started belching out thick black plumes of smoke. Had I seen that type of plume off the freeway I would have assumed that a big rig oil tanker had turned over or a roving band of Vancouver Canucks fans decided to take their act on the road. I seriously had never seen anything like it as you could see the oil bubbling out of the wood and thick as can be. Note to self-in the future stick with Mesquite and Pecan as smoking woods of choice. On the bright side it did clear my sinuses.

Fajitas were very good and I got a bit creative adding some of our pre-cooked frozen hash browns to them. I had bought some 13 inch tortillas at the groceria in lake forest so there plenty of those to go around. Once again for some reason camping food always tastes better then the food you cook at home. Honestly-a Rib Eye Steak perfectly BBQed would not taste as good as the Campground Fajita Burritos we dine on that night. 

Later we got the kids to bed and held hands as we watched the stars in the sky...only this time we were lucky enough to see a couple of shooting stars. A fitting way to end our big family day.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Solvang/Lopez Lake/Santa Barbara Day

So once again I found myself with some time and finally was able to fulfill a family goal of taking my own family to Lopez Lake in San Luis Obispo County. I have numerous fond memories of Lopez Lake with various family members over the years including girlfriends of years past and beloved family members who have since passed on. I even mentioned it on my radio show recently when one of my old friends called the show to reminsice. My wife is probably tired of hearing the stories so it was with great pleasure to finally be able to take her and my sons to the lake.

We had planned to leave at 9am but being since I had to load the van, still make a couple of grocery stops and other assorted to do we finally hit the road at 10:30. said both the 405 and 5 were wide open so we flipped a coin and took the 5. Was a bad choice as we hit traffic almost immediately with the only bright side being it was at least moving along at about 30 MPH as opposed to stop and go. Up through the 5 we saw some of the seedier sides of LA as I pointed out a dilapidated house that was covered with graffiti and had burglar bars that was a mere 10 yards from the freeway and I joked with Tomoko how cute and quaint it was and we should think of exploring the options of living in this wonderfully diverse LA community.

We made it through thousand oaks and stopped at In N Out for lunch.

Later we decided it would be fun to stop by Solvang to see the city, buy some pastries and let the kids stretch their legs. Was a nice little town and sadly the legendary ablescivers shop closed for the afternoon so I rolled my dice with an almond scone taking it to go figuring it would be wonderful in the AM. Walking through the town and saying NO to my son Alex, who at 8 years old had to ask “Can we get Ice Cream?” everytime we passed an ice cream shop and wouldnt you know it Solvang had roughly 1000. Im pretty sure there were Ice Cream shops inside of the Ice Cream shops and probably another inside the restroom. I managed to overhear a local talking about some of the wine shops who was kind enough to point me in the right direction for the Locals pick of choice for Wine shops with their being about 1/2 as many wine shops as Ice Cream shops. Soon enough I was in the tasting room for Lucas and Lewellen winery.  I went to the wine bar and asked for a good red with soft tannins, a hint of oak, with bright cherry overtones that would pair with hot dogs and then bought a bottle of the Lucas and Lewellen merlot that was wonderful and a step above the Shiraz. I would never on the spur buy a 20 buck bottle but I was on vacation so what the hell. 

Tomoko w/the friendly euro guy working the info station in Solvang.
Megan was nice enough to pose with a rasberry danish. She was not a euro...but
a nice gal and a heckuva good cook. 
Huell Hauser once did a segment on this shoe...figured we had to take a pic.
Back on the road we had a light detour when tomoko remember that we had forgotten to bring extra propane for the stove and sadly this was a special asian style propane stone as opposed to the good old fashioned american bulk propane commonly used on Coleman and about 95% of every other camp stoves. 1 trip to Walmart, 1 to Home Depot, and finally Big 5 we finally solved the problem and were back on the road an hour later.

We finally hit Grand Avenue and stopped at the first minimart to get ice and firewood. Ice was fine at a couple of bucks for a 7lb bag but firewood for 8bucks a bundle made the jaw drop. Proceeding through town all of the memories flooded back to me. The mexican food place we watched the Stanley Cup at, the country bar we took a couple of hours respite from camping for cold beers and enjoying the flowing creek then ran by the back patio outside, and the grocery store we used to pick up anything we had forgotten to bring or ran out of. Sadly the grocery store was closed with a huge For Lease sign on the front. Sign o' the times I guess.

We made it to the ranger station to check in and I was a bit surprised to see bear warning signs posted. Upon inquiry the ranger said that indeed some bears were sported rummaging through the trash bins on the parks perimeter not a couple of days previous but on thr bright side no bears had yet to enter a campsite. This followed a myriad of questions from Alex who was surprised to hear that bears can, will, and have attacked and killed people. I guess from watching the recent Yogi Bear movie he had a few misconceptions about bears.

We got back into the van to hit the campsite when we spotted our first couple of deer. Funny thing was I hadnt even started the van and left the check in parking....gotta love Lopez Lake.
We hadn't been in the park 5 minutes before the first deer sighting.

Got to the campsite and was bit miffed to see trash strung out along the ravine neighboring our site. I tried to roll with it but after getting our site set up it just did not sit well with me at all. Donning gloves and a plastic grocery bag down I went to clean up the beer cans, plastic water bottles, newspapers and napkins that littered the area. Problem solved.

We took a quick walk to the lake just in time to see the last bit of sun dissapear over the horizon but not before Alex found a fossil of a shell. Quite please he was promising this would be the newest edition to his treasure box and asking me to write about it in my blog. Done and done.

Back at the campsite to prepare dinner, we realized our fire pit didnt have the typical pit grate that you use to cook and heat food as the normal pit has 10 or or so rungs that cover about 1/4 of the pit and our had 2 badly bent rung remaining. We then realized that while we did bring fajita meat and tortillas we didnt bring cheese, tomatoes, or anything else to put in the burrito. We then made a mgmt decision and went with roasted hot dogs. I had mine with packaged mayo and Del Scorcho. Classy and upscale. 

After a few obligatory marshmallows and getting the kids to bed it was our time. Was a beautiful moonless night and much like cuyamaca the later it got the more stars introduced themselves to us and once again seeing the milky way meant another camping plus that of no light pollution. I had a canned sapporo or two, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.

PT 2 continues here....

Our campsite complete with family truckster.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cuyamaca Day 3- We Say Goodbye

The morning sun began warming up the left side of my face to roughly 350 degrees I would say. Was a weird feeling since other parts of my body were ice cold once again as the chilly night air of Cuyamaca introduced itself to our tent. I felt a bit like a microwaved burrito where the outside is still frozen and the inside hotter the hades.

I got up and was surprised to see I was the first...I guess my hike with the Kids had done its job in that they all went to bed early and were still sleeping. I restarted the campfire and got started on our bacon and egg breakfast that has become a camp staple for us.

The last day of camping is always kind of weird as one one hand the hot shower, soft bed, amenities of life sounds alluring yet at the same time you realize you are also going back to reality. The Kids finally woke up, we feed them and a bit of last minute bird watching, packed the vehicles and headed into Julien one more time. We would be going home the original route I wanted to take to the campsite before Tomoko and GoogleMaps reared their ugly head.

Back in town we were going to stop buy the Mining Museum and Tour until we saw it was 10 bucks a pop per adult and 5 bucks a pop for kids. Kids were bummed but given the look of the area it kind of had that tourist trap/deliverance type look to it with a badly constructed sign with the pricing and the words "No Lookers" at the bottom. Classy.

In stead we went to the Julien Pioneer museum and saw all sorts of cool old artifacts and tools and what not. Housed in an old stone stone and mortar building it had a creep factor of +20. With mannequins dressed in period pieces and the heads soulless eyes pearing out. Found out from the women working their the building was 100 plus years old and was the towns first black smith shop. Very cool!

We made one more stop at the grocer and started the long trip home which consisted of....

Alex getting Car Sick.

Highway 78 being a jig saw of roads and avenues. The Straight shot on the map a far cry from the reality of the location meaning finding the 5 north was like a scene from the amazing race.

A fruit stand selling 15 avocados for 3 dollars. Me getting home and kicking myself for not buying 6 bucks worth.

Stopping by a Target to get the kids a much promised Icee only to discover the food court closed and the kids having to settle for 7-11 while me being very hungry decided it was better to go hungry and wait to get home instead of having to eat something from 7-11.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cuyamaca Day 2

Continued from 
Cuyamaca Day 1

Day 2 saw me waking with a fraction of my normal sleep given that it got down to 40 degrees and while some tents are built to help retain and circulate body heat our tent, sadly, was not one of those models. Its great for desert camping given the open mesh styling but for cold weather camping which one would not normally associate with Cuyamaca late June, was not the perfect fit. Even though I had stuffed my favorite 20+ year old mexican blanket into my sleeping bag no matter how hard I tried there was one area of skin that was ice cold and made the entire night a bit on the uncomfortable side. I kicked myself remember the wife offering up my thermal underwear and sweatshirt and me refusing given at that point in time it was probably still 60 degrees or thereabouts. I learned Cuyamaca Lakes rule #1- a 50 degree drop in temperature is not uncommon. 

I woke up and poured some fresh water into our favorite aluminum pan and busted out the portable propane stove and clicked the starter switch 4 or 5 times before I realized it was not switching into the "on" position. I was able to get it lit and stay lit provided I stood by the side of table providing enough downward force on the lever via thumb to keep it lit but decided that process might take 5 minutes....sure its only 5 minutes but thats not the Cahill camping way. I threw some of the high heat flash burning wood Thuc brought with him and started a fire in the pit. 15 minutes later the fire was good and hot placing the cast iron skillet on top of the fire pits grill and the aluminum pot filled with water on top of the cast iron skillet-it was only 10 or 15 minutes before bubble started forming in the pan and another 5 or so before I had my first cup of morn's coffee. 

Thuc and his family awoke-actually they awoke far before I did and to my bemusement I am fairly certain I heard some DSS sounds in the background. Between that and Artic Station Zebra and feeling the heat of the sun on the side of the tent I was ready to get up ASAP anyhow.  

As we all dressed for the day I asked Thuc if he had brought the pastries and muffins that was part of the things he had agreed to bring. He shot a sheepish green and said "looks like we're going into town."

Next thing I know we are in the Julien Cafe ordering breakfast. Truth be told it was fantastic. Normally I dont expect much in little towns as I figure they're not trying too hard to impress but everything on the menu was incredibly good with me and the wife sharing between the Cinnamon Roll French Toast and the Julien Skillet Scramble. I did feel a bit bad though as Alex decided at this point in time he no longer was going to order on the Kids menu and thus ordered the $8 blueberry short stack of pancakes and ate about 1/10 of it before he said he was full and didnt touch anything else afterwards. Cool place as well with the old style toilets in the bathroom and just an overall very cool vibe. We asked the waitress about the best places to buy groceries and she gave us a couple of suggestions. 

Alex's 8 dollar Blueberry Panckakes

We headed back to camp and longed to take a good old fashioned long camping hike through the west end of the Cleveland National Forest. By the time we got back it was  roughly 11:30 so I gave in impromptu speech about why hiking at the hottest point of the day is always the best time to start a long journey. I brought my water backpack which could carry 2L of waters and stuffed a few more bottles in for good measure and told the kids to bring as much water as they could carry.

We started the journey and walking the paved driveway to the trailhead I heard the first "Im tired." Good thing was it wasnt one of my kids. Finally making the trail we were off. Roughly 15 minutes into the hike Tomoko and I realized A)we probably should have researched which trail we wanted to go on, B)choose the trail I wanted to go on which went to the top of one of the peaks where you supposedly could see San Diego on the West, the Desert on the East, and a handful of Starbucks scattered about for good measure; and C)printing out the trail map may have been a good idea since we rarely saw the park ranger and when we did she mentioned they were out of trail maps. Later we realized Thuc was on the 5G network and selling shares of stock on the way courtesy of ETrade and could have used the net to pull up the trails anyhow but I digress.

We were about 30 minutes into the hike before all of the kids were taking turns complaining about heat and thirst and being tired....this was a far cry from when just me and the fam did the 3 Queens trail in Bryce Canyon Utah.  I implored the kids to move forward offering the idea that when completed we would spend the rest of the day at the stream for some cool water fun in the sun. It worked for a bit but not as long as Id hoped. I reflected back to my days of attending Grateful Dead concerts and marveled at how at one time walking around meant "buds, doses, shrooms" but now with age had morphed into "im thirsty, im tired, im hot."

We kept trekking however and each summit offered a beautiful vista and view of the landscape. Thrown about at random you would see the large burnt oak tree with its twisted burnt limbs reaching vainly to the sky. Some of the twisted, burnt, angle of the branches reached out like an old woman with arthritis. It made for fine juxtaposition however as the surging greenery permeating the area was eclipsing and engulfing was what at one time nothing more the miles of scorched Terra earthed. I could imagine how walking this same path 5 years ago after fire ravaged the land how it must have looked very similar to nuclear holocaust.

The kids didnt seem to see the same things I was seeing however and while each turn and bend of the path opened a new experience of organic awe that I embraced and actually became enraptured in, to the kids it may as well have been the Bataan Death March. Tomoko quietly asked how much longer and I gingerly sidestepped the question with a series of grunts and mumbles looking down lurching forward with a posture akin to Homo heidelbergensis

One of the many peaceful views the trail offered.....between kids complaining and whining that is.

I was able to buy a bit more time with the "one more hill" routine before finally realizing the one more hill was a trail overgrown with Poison Oak or at least some type of noninviting plant as well as the growing preasance of bees and other types of stinging insects. At that point I knew there was no way we could continue. Back to camp we went as the kids busted out the Gogurts and Capri Suns and celebrated.

So we made it back to camp and got everyone into their swim trunks...except me who decided it was hot enough were I could swim in my shorts and underwear and still be dry and comfy enough in time for the nights dinner. We walked to the path on the right this time as we sought the perfect pool/stream for the kids to splash around in. This time as well featured no snakes so that was nice.

Once settled I took a little quest further down the river to see what other natural formations harkened, beckoned, and otherwise invited me into its cool allure of moisture. There were some nice pools roughly 3 or 4 feet deep Id imagine but also with some currents that looked way too much for the kids and way too harsh for the Kubla Khan I was searching for. 

A few yards further down I found it-Cleveland National Forests answer to Chings Pond in Maui. A 5 or 6 foot waterfall culminating in a 15 by 15 foot pool of cool enjoyment. There were some young ladies in the area testing the pool and together we agreed that the pool could be 5 feet deep or maybe 15. It was the great unknown. I looked up and remembered that Tomoko and Thuc were with the kids and given I wasnt sure if this was the chosen pool I decided to go back and make the decision to jump later.

The magical pool in which I attained religious enlightenment

Later came and I decided that if I didnt swim the pool I would never forgive myself. I took off my shoes and made my way down the rocky surface to the lip of the pool and soon discovered the exposed rock that has baking in the sun for a couple of hours also retains and absorbs said suns heat. The searing smell of heel made the decision to jump in a bit easier....I took a small jump and was in! The cool water would arguably have been too cold in someone else's backyard pool but in this environment it was nothing less then perfect. I poked my feet down to test the depth and discovered that it was about 5 -6 feet deep in some areas. I swam from side to side and even underwater, fully submerged for a bit before swimming under the falls and letting the force of the falls give me a pseudo neck and shoulder massage. It reminded my of the waterfalls at the Tropicana in Vegas. I enjoyed the roaring of the falls in my ears blocking out all peripheral sound and the pulse of the water on my shoulders put me into my happy place 1 turn short of sheer bliss. After 30 minutes or 5 minutes-I will never know I decided it was time to walk back up to the kids. Walking out of the pool and onto the rocks I saw Tomoko had made her way down to the pool with the camera to take a few shots. As we walked back up the trail a group of teens passed us as one threw his towel to the side and did a cannonball of the edge of the rocks into the same pool I just left. We decided they must have been more familiar with the area then we were. 

We made it back to camp and I opened a can of cold Sapporo and collapsed in my camp chair to relax for a bit while the same bluebird who at this time was my Lex Luther decided to land on the stump 5 feet away from me. I was hot, tired, and stank. My shorts were still damp, my shoulders sore, and I would have paid top dollar for a bar of Irish Spring.

Quoth the Steller's Jay, "Nevermore."

The Final Day of our Journey can be found here....
Epilogue- We Say Goodbye

Friday, June 24, 2011

More Fun with Family Camping-Cuyamaca State Park Day 1

Tuesday came and it was Juniors last day of school. Being one for tradition I guess that meant we had to go camping again. Last year it was Zion and Bryce which can be found here-

This year we had a few options but after reading some reviews on Yelp and other sources decided on the semi local friendly confines of Cuyamaca SP in San Diego County outside of Julien California.

Reading about the sites there are 2 actual campgrounds and neither one of them are actually by Lake Cuyamaca. The lake itself is about a 15-20 minute drive I'd estimate. There is a stream though that runs to the side of the Green Valley sites that was not available at the Paso Picacho camp sites. I generally find that barring someplace that is absolutely amazing in view and scope such as Joshua Tree for instance, that its much better to have water-any type of water available then no water. And our experience years ago at Lake Casitas notwithstanding, we opted for the Green Valley site.

Arriving roughly 2 hours later we were greeted by no one. The front office one normally checks in at was closed and there were no trail maps or any other type of printed material that gives any type of information about the park itself. Apart from our friends who came with us in the 2nd vehicle and had no money to pay the 2nd vehicle fee driven for our close longtime family friend Thuc Le-it was relatively smooth sailing.

We found our site and pulled uphill to set up camp and unload the kids. The site had a nice view but the slight slope and curvature of the terrain meant strategical placements of tents and even then once setup the tent was not going to be level and Ive slept with a sloped angle in the past so we rolled with it. Hammering the stakes in the ground and unloading the van it dawned on me that it was probably 85-90 degrees and one of the ultimate laws of camping is with heat, sweat, and work comes hoard of bugs. This camping truism rang true. It always rings true.

The second truism of camping is you always forget something....and in this case it was the citronella candles that help to keep the bugs away. So I am helping set up our tent as well as our friends tent and their kids tents with a bit of sweat and a lot of small annoying bugs. All part of the fun I reckon.

Researching the site a bit more there were Mountain Lion and Rattlesnake Warnings galore. Being we had 5 kids in our party ranging from ages 4 to 10 we sat them on the table and gave them a talk that this wasn't Boomers Miniature Golf Course and that camping here brings some risks. As we spoke a Stellers Jay  landed on rockey outcrop next to us with its bright blue feathers on the body and its black feathered head. The kids looked over and smiled. I tried to take a picture but this bird found it amusing to pose just long enough for me to aim the camera but fly away right as I snapped a picture. I am pretty sure it was taunting me. Within a few minutes we also greeted by lizards and squirrels which I was happy with...gave the kids something to do while we finished setting up camp.

This Bird was unmerciless in its taunting of me

Soon nature called and I led the kids up the hill to the restrooms through a trail that led directly to one of the adjoining campsites. Climbing the same rocky outcrop we saw the lizards and squirrels, we started talking about the possibility of the area was being covered with snakes, so we walked slowly and deliberately. As we got to the top and saw the neighbors site the kids got a lesson in the importance of throwing the trash in bags and disposing it in proper trash bins as the adjoining camp site was littered with trash courtesy of an army of crows that had hit the trash jackpot. The neighbors were nowhere to be found and I could only imagine what they must have thought getting back to their sites after a long hike to see trash scattered about and a thank you card from the crows on the table.

We made it back to camp and took the kids on their first official hike of the camping trip as we left to explore the mountain stream that ran adjacent.

I was leading the way down the path to the stream when there on the rock ahead was some type of snake. I am by no means a snake expert but stopped the kids and let the take a look. Tomoko looked and recognized them as Garter snakes as we have seen them in our own yard in Lake Forest. I later learned that there is another similar snake known as a Racer that is common as well. We recorded the snakes on the DVR with the one on the rock in plain view; I used my hockey stick that I had made into a walking stick to scoot the snake along into the brush. With all of the snake warnings in the area and having been at the site for less then 2 hours at this point I was assuming the area literally must have been crawling with snakes but truth be told we didn't see any the rest of the trip and quite frankly I wasn't at all unhappy with that outcome.

We kept walking down the trail and soon we heard voices along with the sounds of rushing water nearing.
A few steps later we were at a beautiful stream and a 6ft waterfall of clear, cool, water rushing down the hillside. We found a shallow area and waded with all mountain flowing streams the water was icy cold but felt good in the dry heat. The kids were enjoying themselves as well splashing about.

Meandering a bit down the stream there were some nice gentle streams and some rocky falls that made for a wonderful afternoon. The flowing water that crossed the rocks made a moss growth that created a very slippery surface for walking or grip of any type. Things got interesting as well when one of the girls with us slipped and began making her way down the stream towards some waterfalls. Since we were only there for a bit and unfamiliar with the area we didnt know If the drop was 1 foot or 20 and being she was a friend of Thuc's daughter and not related to any of us anyhow- seeing her make her way down the falls and the element of the unknown meant me running out to the stream and jumping into the water to grab her...that's when the slippery moss coated rocks introduced themselves and meant that I was holding her while at the same time slipping down the same set of falls at which point Thuc jumped out and the slippery moss introduced itself to him. A woman sitting on the rock and said nothing while watching the whole even unfold. Later when we got the girl back in the shallows we saw that there were several large rocks that acted as a safety net from the drop and some others kids down the falls a bit playing and splashing in the water not 10 or 15 yards away ....and the local lady on the rock probably found it quite amusing watching the tourists scamper around the rocks in dramatic rescue 911 mode as we sheepishly realized our folly.

Exploring the stream before the big rescue

Once the excitement subsided I went off on a solo quest to explore some more of the rocks and stream and waterfalls. Climbing over boulders, logs, and trying to stick to the trail I heard what sounded like Niagara falls in a secluded portion of the stream, after climbing a large boulder for a better look I realized I had interrupted a couples romantic interlude. I hadn't even seen them below in the shadows and I am sure they saw and heard me first whistling and going about my happy camping way complete ignorant of the situation. Once I was down and realized the interruption-it was basically too late as I was already almost all the way down to the base of the falls. Good times. Later found out they were from Oceanside and it was their first trip to Cuyamaca as well. I was sad I didn't have my camera so I could have taken their picture and posted it here. "Pardon me, would you mind if I take your picture for my blog where I can go into great detail of my interrupting of your romantic interlude?"

One of the wonderful falls

Back to the site we went with the rest of the night featuring....

The box wine the wife brought had absorbed the ice water like a sponge which meant the cooler was filled with a large blob of wine bag and bits of cardboard floating about.

Cooking fajitas over the campfire with my cast iron skillet that I was fortunate enough to bring. The Cast Iron skillet will now be a permanent staple for our camping supplies simply for use as a stove top.
We placed the iron skillet over the fire and pan inside the skillet. If you wonder why-cookware on an open fire results in a black coating of soot that will forever permeate the bottom of the pan as well as sticking to your fingers and clothing. Nothing a wife loves more the using the cookware over the campfire. 

Finding a huge chunk of firewood we through in the fire pit to which Thuc's son Daryn started affectionately referring to as “Big Mama.”

Realizing that Smores was the worst camp food- who came up with the idea that a sticky flaming marshmallow between two crumbling graham crackers and dark staining chocolate bars was the best choice to give kids before bed?

Pt 2 Can be found here....

Cuyamaca Day 2