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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.