Saturday, July 25, 2015

Carr and Calyx Peaks with Sadie and 11 other hikers

I led a hike via the MeetUp and hiking club up to Carr Peak and I couldn't have picked a nicer day to do it. Twelve hikers showed up: Rod, JohnS, Jeff, JimA, Holly and Doug, Gina, Dave and Karen, BillK and Joe, all strong hikers. We were a long line of determined hikers as we meandered up the singletrack trail to the peak. It was Bill's, Holly's and Doug's first time to the peak. We didn't encounter anyone coming down until we were 1/2 mile from the top, and we were told there were plenty of ladybugs on the peak.
Today was our first non-rain day in four days. It was overcast for most of the hike, with the sky clearing once we were back at the parked vehicles. Birds were chirping and flitting about but most remained invisible. Sadie held her own and stayed by my side. We never faced any threat of rain, either. Water was running off Carr springs. Golden Columbines were in full bloom as we walked through the aspen groves. It was cool enough on the peak that Rod put his jacket on. I hadn't hiked Carr Peak since March and I had forgotten how beautiful this trail is in the summer, especially the section going through the aspen grove, with the Golden Columbines on either side of the lush trail.
The nice thing about today's hike were the wildflowers. The only flower that's still missing from the pre-fire lineup are the red salvias. They are still absent from the higher elevations around Carr. All the other flowers were a perfect excuse to stop and photograph them. Even the wild onion on the peaks were in bloom. The ladybugs were also all over the peak.
I hadn't hiked elevation in a while and could feel it. I slowed down to stay near Gina, who also is recovering from a blood infection last fall. She's still not as fast as she used to be. The group, despite its size, had strong hikers so we never had to stop and wait for long for the slower ones. Most of the photographers were in the back with me.
We stayed on the peak for a while before descending and then bushwhacking to the nearby lower peak of Calyx Peak, a peak that isn't even named on any topo map but which has a sign that someone created and planted on the peak. A faint game trail led up the rocky slope; watching one's footing is very important here. I had never been on this peak and enjoyed the different view of Carr and Miller from that perspective. Agave were blooming around us. Lots of hedgehog cacti. I was so impressed with the views that I forgot to photograph the view into Ramsey Canyon! Duh! That was the one reason I went on the bushwhack. Calyx Peak is quite visible from Carr Peak but it's off the official trail along a ridgeline.
Rod wanted to hike down along the ridge toward the bathtub on the Crest Trail, but that would have added almost two miles to the hike, all of it with bushwhacking. I'm no fan of bushwhacking and since I WAS the "official" hike leader, I strongly suggested we go back the way we came up Calyx Peak, via the shortest route possible. Most were in agreement with me.

We got back down to the Carr Peak trail below the intersection to the peak. This was very overgrown but it felt great to get back on terra firma again. We never did catch up with Holly, Doug and Gina but we did meet several groups going uphill, including two USBP agents, a young couple with their young girl, and a few other groups. We never stopped for breaks and instead went right back to our cars by 1pm.
It was Dave's 70th birthday. I always enjoy a post-hike meal with other hikers. Dave suggested Pizzeria Minosa. I hadn't been there in a while and went along with Rod (the other hikers all went home). We sat outside on the patio facing the mountains, something I had always wanted to do since both Carr and Miller Peaks are in full view here, and then I pick a seat facing away from the view! My chicken alfredo with two Blue Moon beers came to a whopping $26, before tip. But what the hay, as it was a birthday meal. Sadie lay on the cool patio floor and napped, but came to life when I fed her some of my chicken strips.
I finally made it home at 4pm. Kevin had returned from his week trip to Boston. It's nice having him back, even if that means putting up with his loud computer in bed. He always goes to bed watching some YouTube movie, then falls asleep within a few minutes and keeps that damn computer on all night unless I reach over to turn it off.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Overcast, grey day; a walk through Ash Canyon

Pache finally decided to grace his presence by the front door as I walked to the kitchen for my morning coffee. Unlike Bobby who meows loudly from under the Texas sage bush near the front door, Pache sits right by the door and quietly waits, keeping his eyes on the front door and listening to any movement inside. And waits. Did he wait for days while I was gone over the weekend? Relieved to see him once again among the living and endearing him with "Oh Asshole, so good to see you again!" I picked him up, hugged him close and put him in the garage with Guinny and Bobby, determined to lock him in the house for a while. How long had Pache been waiting to come back home? Not a word from the felines for the rest of the day.
It was another quiet, cool morning. Low clouds shrouded the peaks but it never rained. Later in the morning I entertained Minnie and Sadie with their new blue Nerf ball, which Sweetie decided is for her as well. She likes to make her toys squeak and will sit in the grass for hours chewing a rubber toy. The Nerf ball seems more pleasing to both Minnie and Sadie than the larger but lighter Chuckit GloBall.

I've been trying to get my trip report from San Diego done this past week, going through the photos and editing what I have been adding here. I'm also trying to keep up with my Amazon reviews. It was my goal this summer to get down to "Zero Reviews Due" on my "To Be Reviewed (TBR) list what was at 72 items earlier this spring. I'm now down to one book and five various brands of personal hygiene products. My ranking while I was in San Diego slipped only slightly, to #415.
It's so quiet in this house when Kevin is not here. He's due back Saturday from his week in Boston visiting his grandson Owen. The dogs nap all day anyway and the only time I see movement is when I go outside and garden, a sign for Minnie that it's time to play a round of FETCH! again. We certainly have enough balls now to keep all the dogs entertained.

My eyes are on Sammy. He's been holding on these last two years since Sara died. He's now showing his age, with his white muzzle and his droopy eyes and that cyst on his left eyelid. His daily pills of tumeric and glucosamine seem to help his mobility, but he walks slowly and whenever I take him for a walk, I go at his pace while the other three dogs run along.
It drizzled lightly in the afternoon, a gentle, tranquil rain that moistened the earth. I took the dogs out to Ash Canyon at 3:20pm for a short walk in the wash. No one goes here now that target shooting has been banned. I parked the van right off Ash canyon road and walked the dogs down to the wash. Naturally they all did the same thing as soon as they got out of the van: they pooped and peed, as if they were holding everything in for the last 12 hours. Let them poop and pee I say, as that saves me some time picking up the hardened turds from the back yard! Dog poop in the forest surely throws off the bears, coyotes and mountain lions who saunter down into the valley.
There was no water in Ash Canyon. The sand was cool as we walked a little downstream in the wash. This is an area that Sammy can maneuver around as there are no major stumps to jump over. I didn't want to walk too far to avoid hitting private property and perhaps territorial dogs, and took a trail up the northern bank that led to what looked like a dry cattle trough. I'd never noticed that before! We followed the jeep trail from the trough which led back to Ash canyon road and back to the van, making a loop hike of no more than a mile and 20 minutes.
The monsoonal rains are greening the fields and mountain sides. Flowers are thriving and so are the mushrooms. This is perhaps the prettiest time in the desert after the spring blooms. I love being here in late July.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Coronado dog beach, Hurricane Dolores

We woke up to an overcast sky. I let the dogs out to pee on the grassy median and then drove down to the beach. During the week access to Dog Beach is easy, as it's just outside the southern gate to the Navy base, bordering the golf course, but on weekends this gate is closed. This now means driving around the base and through the ritzy neighborhood.

There were already cars parked along the street and people on the beach.
Waves this morning were higher than yesterday, creating frothy white caps as the waves rushed to shore. That didn't seem to bother any of the dogs on the beach as they ran after balls or chased each other. After yesterday's bout with vomit and diarrhea, I really wanted to keep the dogs out of the ocean and on the wet sand only, and for the most part both did just that. This was a nice excuse to get them out for some exercise before driving to my first hike today.
This beach is much smaller than the Original Dog Beach in Ocean Beach. The iron gate to the Navy base extends into the ocean, so there's no way one can safety enter the base from this side. Lots of kelp was on the beach, and a fine marine layer drifted off the waters. Catalina Island was visible, and the high rises further south reminded me that we were in a touristy area.

A deflated soccer ball was Minnie's fetch toy for today and both dogs got into the game. There were many people and there dogs here, and the smaller space meant more dogs per square foot. Dogs were coming from all directions to play, and one exuberant young Chocolate Lab came running toward Minnie and Sadie. This was a rough-playing pup wo thankfully did no harm to my girls, however, this same pup viciously attacked a senior Husky walking along the shore with its owner. It's scary how fast these dangerous encounters unfold. I didn't see the entire fight, I just heard the yelping and the owners screaming. The owners of the Chocolate Lab were able to get the dog off the Husky, the Husky and the owner walked away. The dog was bleeding from its mouth but its thick fur kept it from any more serious injuries. The owners was understandably upset, lured the dog into the water to wash off the blood, and then left the area while the Chocolate Lab and its owners stayed on the beach. I had my eyes on that dog, as an attack on either of my dogs would not have ended as peacefully as with the Husky.

The sun was finally rising above the marine layer, but dark storm clouds offshore were also bringing in lighting and more rain. I got the dogs off the beach when a beach patrol came up in an SUV to warm all people out of the water due to the lightning. This car drove up and down the entire beaches with their megaphone. People were still coming TO the beach but I won't take that risk. I waited for the hose at the water fountain to clear out so I could wash the salt off my dogs, but people kept coming up to use that hose. This hose was the one plus over the other dog beach, but I must say I like the other beach more because of its size and location.

Sadie vomitted in the van but the watery upchuck was clear and landed on the cooling pad. Lots of water helped ease her discomfort. I sat inside the van for a bit to see if the storm would blow over, but when a convertible pulled up behind me with a boxer in the back seat waiting for some beach fun, that's when I left to return to the base for my morning shower.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cowles Peak and Coronado Island

Minnie got me up just before 5am with her incessant barking when she saw people walking down the sidewalk near the van. The first runners also trotted on by. I let the dogs out for a quick pee after the initial commotion and then drove off to the first hike of the day, Cowles Peak off Big Rock Road in Santee. The directions weren't specific to mileage, but the drive was eight miles off I-8 on Mission Gorge Road (which meandered northeast through commercial neighborhoods) before I found Big Rock Road on the northern perimeter of Mission Hills Park, a county park of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians. A cool marine layer started us out once again in low fog, perfect for the dogs. There are various trails that lead to Cowles Peak and the Big Rock trail is the longest at 2.5 miles one-way.
The trail off Big Rock Road is at the end of the street with two quaint homes on either side. A wooden fence and a prominent trail head sign with instructions and bear bells were available. Sensing this would be perfect mountain lion habitat with the low-lying rocky hills, I took three bells. One for each dog and one for me. We started the hike at 6:39am. The bells combined were loud, and one hiker chuckled at them. That's when I took the bells off the dogs' collars and placed them in my backpack where they continued to jingle but with a more distinctive muffled sound.
We quickly met our first couple coming down the trail, holding on to their off-leash pit bull who apparently had been attacked before and the owners had to hold back. I understand the owners' concern for their pet's safety, as pit bulls are so badly maligned. I made sure my dogs were on leash as we walked by.
The marine layer was already breaking up to our north. Santee's homes opened up as well as we meandered up the steep trail, switchbacking through scrub oak, chaparral and meadow grasses. The trail was again wide and of hard decomposed granite. We passed the first intersection with the Mesa Junction trail 1/2 mile uphill, where a courtesy stainless-steel water bowl was left for dogs, tied to an oak tree. I used that to fill up with water for Minnie. She was already getting tired.
We did not hit the mass of hikers until we got to the main trail, a wide maintenance trail that goes to the peak and beyond to Pyles Peak. Holy moly, write-ups for the crowds on this trail weren't exaggerating! I kept the dogs onleash for most of this time, but let them drag their leashes when no one was around. By now the trail was getting hot and exposed and Minnie slowed down even more. I stopped a few times as other dog walkers passed us by.
The maintenance road goes between the two peak rest areas; we went on the one closer to the radio antennae with less people. We got to the peak at 8:17am Two women had just gotten up to this side with their three-year-old girl who had hiked the trail by herself! (Their hike was only 1.5 miles, staying on the maintenance road) Another solo man sat facing the north for a long time, taking in the view.

Hummingbirds flitted around us. Minnie found some shade behind some rocks, but I soon moved to the higher rest area where there were more trees and more shade for both dogs and me. This spot faced the south and the San Diego skyline. People kept coming up from this end, masses and masses of people of all shapes and sizes. It was the Super Highway of hikes. Most people came, took in the view, drank some water, took some selfies and left to go back to their cars. I was on the peak for over an hour, letting the dogs rest. It's not like I had to rush somewhere and allowed the dogs to rest, knowing also that the longer we stayed on the peak, the hotter it would be for the walk back down. I opted not to continue the hike to Pyles Peak and instead return to our van.
I talked to several others on the peak, including a young man who recommended I check out Coronado Island while in the area. Why, of course! Although that wasn't in my original plan, I had heard about the touristy part of that area and the nearby Navy base. I could van camp on base with no hassles! Why hadn't I thought of that sooner?
We departed for the descent at 9:17am, passing as many people going up as we had coming up the trail ourselves. Minnie was exhausted, but it wasn't from the sun (although there was little shade with a slight breeze) but because the heat was radiating back up to us from the surface rocks. While most people were coming and going via the maintenance road, I was glad to get back on the more remote Big Rock trail and more shade. Again, I rested several times for ten minutes to allow for Minnie to calm down and give her more water. We didn't get back to the van until 10:55am and by then there was no trace of marine layer.

This time I was able to get back to I-8 and the Pacific Highway south to go through town and the Coronado bridge. One can see all the Navy ships from the bridge. There is no toll now in either direction and I made it straight to the downtown area and managed a shady spot for the dogs in a parking spot that still had 1:17 hours left. The dogs rested in the cool shade while I went across the street to photograph San Diego's skyline. Then I walked a few blocks south on Orange Avenue, the main shopping street here. I even spotted the Coronado brewpub! I'm not a shopper anymore so the stores didn't lure me in (no interest in paying California prices anyway) and I wanted to see what else was around, like the Navy base next door which takes up most of the northern tip of Coronado. I rested a bit in the van while still parked in the shade before driving to the Navy base.

Security on this base is high, as it should be. Cars go in via one exit and out another via a separate street. Every ID card is scanned. I drove in and out of the base several times the rest of the day, so I'm sure guards were wondering what I was doing. I drove around to locate the NEX, the lodge, the gym and to get an overall feel of where the important things were located. The gym was my first place, where I went in to use the shower facilities. I hadn't showered since leaving Arizona Wednesday and my hair was looking plastered to my head. I wanted to make sure I was cleaned up before hitting the brewpub for Happy Hour. The dogs were quite content napping in the shade with the windows wide open, and I made sure I parked away from main traffic flow. With a new set of clean clothes and a clean body, I was now ready to explore the area.

I parked the van in front of the brewpub and by a palm tree that provided additional shade for the dogs. The brewpub was already crowded for Happy Hour. I found an empty stool at the edge of the counter and soon I had another neighbor to my left, a blonde woman about my age named Laura. Laura lives on the island and frequents to pub often. She let me sample some of the beers so I settled for a Golden and later a salty dog, both beers with low alcohol rates. I also had a Happy Hour Swiss cheese burger for $7.

Laura and a few other locals made for fun chatmates. The crowd at the counter was older, like my age and up and all very friendly. Laura has lived on the island for 12 years. She's divorced now, but once was a flight attendant for a major airline, but quit that job when she had her son. She now makes $12/ hour. How does she live off that while living on the island?

Another man to my right proved to be Belgian born. He came to the US to fight in the Vietnam war and is now an American citizen. Wearing his long greying hair in a pony tail, he still speaks with an accent. Both he and Laura told me they come to the pub quite often as they like the beer, food and owner, but the owner won't hire either of them because of their age. Hearing that was a bit of a turn-off, but that's when I noticed all the servers were young and perky.

I wanted to stay longer and chat with the locals, but the pub was getting crowded and I wanted to explore the island more, find dog beach and the other famed beaches. I told Laura I'd be back, but circumstances dictated otherwise. I never did find the dog beach and ended up driving the length of the island (it's really a peninsula) to the Tijuana River estuary along the international border. The entire shore is plastered with high rise condos and hotels, so seeing the beach is reserved for hotel guests. Traffic was everywhere. Bored with the mundane, I returned to my starting point on the north end.

I made it back to the northshore just as the sun set its last pinkish colors on San Diego's skyline. I stayed on the Navy base now, checking out the NEX, surfing the internet while in the McDonald's parking lot as a steady rain now fell over the city.

I eventually parked the van in a Navy lodge parking lot. No cars were around us and we had a quiet, undisturbed night.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Original Dog Beach

We made it to the Dog Beach parking lot at 1:20pm. As expected, it wasn't easy getting a good spot as the place was crowded and the parking lot shares revelers for the non-dog beach area as well. The San Diego Mission Bay spur bike trail ends here at the entrance to the Dog Beach sign, where people can drop off old tennis balls and other dog toys in memory of a Black-Brown Spaniel named Reba who loved this beach but who died several years ago. "Please help yourself to a tennis ball for your dog to enjoy. CHERISH EVERY MOMENT" said the hand-painted poster with photos of Reba and her proud owner. Yes, I will cherish this memory of my dogs on the beach. Forever. That's why I came to San Diego anyway!
There were dogs EVERYWHERE. Big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs and every breed imaginable. Both dogs were let off their leashes as soon as we hit the sand, and both did beautifully around other dogs. I wasn't expecting any issues, but Sadie tends to be nervous around other dogs. What I noticed this time, however, was her staying near Minnie at all times. She didn't cower near me, no, she was as excited to play as the other dogs! I was very happy to see this as this freed me up a bit. I threw their Chuckit ball and both gladly jumped into the ocean water to retrieve it. Other dogs came in to join in on the fetching fun, but both Minnie and Sadie guarded their ball with intensity.
I plopped my beach blanket down and relaxed, watching the dogs and petting any that came close to me. There were dogs in all directions having off-leash fun and behaving. The beach isn't very clean, which can be expected from a dog beach, but the filth I saw was mostly from an oily grime across the sand's surface and not from beach goers' trash. Kelp had washed ashore with the last tide but the kelp wasn't a problem for the dogs. Dogs that pooped quickly had responsible owners picking it up...unless the dog pooped in the water.
There were a lot of German Shepherd Dogs on this beach. I am a lover of the breed and appreciate all other GSDs in the area. Many came up to my dogs and my dogs didn't mind getting their butts sniffed. At one point a youngish man, who apparently spends a lot of time lifting weights at a gym and tanning, because his chest and upper body muscles were well-ripped came up to me and bragged about living here in San Diego after 18 years of Scottsdale and its five months of intense heat. While I can't argue with the heat of the greater Phoenix area and I certainly wouldn't want to live there, I am pleased with where we live in Arizona. We live in a higher elevation area that sees more rain that Phoenix-Scottsdale and it's cooler as well. There's less population density and less stress. When people talk about living in Arizona, however, they tend to refer to the greater Phoenix area. Like the rest of the state doesn't exist.
"We get 73-degree weather here everyday, what's not to like about this?" the Gym Boy said. How can I argue with that?! I probably would love to live here as well, if it weren't for the crowds and the ungodly high prices on EVERYTHING! (Gasoline was selling for $4.76 a gallon along the ocean; it's currently $2.59 in Sierra Vista, AZ). There is always the threat of earth quakes as well. And then the added dangers of living so close to Tijuana, Mexico. He had brought his four GSDs along for a beach stroll, all who followed him quietly along the shoreline. Two of his dogs were older white GSDs and the younger one, Sammy, a long-haired pup who gladly played fetch with Minnie and the Chuckit ball. The fourth dog, a smaller white dog, was a mutt.
Watching unleashed dogs is quite a joy, as they chase each other, race for balls, even bite into waves and come up to everyone. This is how dogs should be more often, away from the stress of being on a leash and constantly in protective mode around the owner. Even my own dogs went to my "neighbors" on the beach to drop their ball for them to throw back into the water! Minnie fetched for anyone who threw her the ball, even an enthusiastic little blonde girl who took a liking to Minnie. Another boy nearby dug a sand moat nearby, oblivious of the dogs running around him. For two hours I sat on the beach blanket just watching dogs around me. I didn't worry about a smart phone, the internet, or what new items Amazon was offering me to review. When was the last time I just sat back and relaxed?
I stopped relaxing two hours later when Minnie started vomiting up the salt water and then having explosive, clear diarrhea. She began to walk slowly and not run and showed no desire to chase after the ball. Sadie soon followed with her sad look and low-tipped ears. Others around me told me the first-time salt water experience was a "cleansing action" for the dogs (really?!) and not to worry, but giving them fresh water from my thermos didn't seem to help. They'd lap up all the water and still go back for more salt water. Minnie stopped running around because of her stomach cramps and soon Sadie followed. The beach fun had run its course and it was time for me to leave, as even I was getting sun burned. I had to keep the dogs away from the water so that they wouldn't drink more salt water and focused on walking them on the hard, wet shoreline.
And yet they'd still drink more salt water and puke and shit everything back up. At least it looked mostly clear coming out of either end! We walked the entire length of the Dog Beach down to the waterfowl preserve and back, slowly meandering around kelp and hermit crabs while the dogs vomited and shat. Crowds were less here (due to the muddier beach and silt) but there were still small groups of people cuddling or spending time with their dogs. An abandoned ball here and there peaked out of the sand. The pungent aroma of brackish salt water hugged the air.
I let the dogs drink from the dog water fountain at the entrance to the dog park. Even a transient man helped them with the faucet. Both dogs wouldn't stop drinking the fresh water, as the salt water had truly dehydrated them. I stayed near that fountain for the dogs until I saw that both were full of water and replenished. That only meant that soon I'd have to stop somewhere and let them pee it all out, which happened while I was parked along Sunset Cliffs photographing the waves and watching teens jump off an arched protrusion (despite signs saying jumping off the cliffs was prohibitive). The dogs were in the van as they weren't allowed off-leash here. As soon as I got back to the van, though, Sadie pushed herself out of the driver's door, ran across the street (almost got hit by a car!) so she could pee in the lush green grass in front of someone's home. It took the rest of the day for the dogs to feel better again, but thankfully neither showed any signs of serious discomfort.
I stayed around Ocean Beach the rest of the day, driving along the coast, even entering part of the Cabrillo Monument area and some US Navy property where white tombstones mark the graves of our veterans. The graves are on both the east and west side of the high ridge, so both sides of the cemetery faces either the ocean or the San Diego bay. From here one can see how prominent the US Navy's presence is around the city. What a lovely area for a long evening stroll or a bike ride. Homes here are the small homes from 50 years ago, with small plot gardens barely big or wide enough to surround a car.
The shoreline is what brought me back to Sunset Cliffs. I stayed along the shore well past sun set at 7:50pm, watching the shoreline's sandstone change from light yellow to deep orange. Brown pelicans and seagulls flew overhead, young couples cuddled in rock crevices, older men met on benches to share the view, runners trotted along the road for a last-minute work-out with daylight. Watching the sun set here is very popular, as I remember how popular it was in my days living in Pacific Grove, CA. It's so popular, that people don't pay heed to where and how they park, so when I wanted to leave after sun set, I had to ask the young man who was blocking me in to please move his giant pick-up truck out of the way. "You leaving already?" he asked me rather surprised as he sipped from his beer can. Yes, I was leaving as I'd already been there an hour and sun sets off the California coast are not as brilliant as the sun sets in Arizona. There are no spectacular colors across the western sky, just a brown-red haze across the horizon above the water line and once the sun sets below the line, all light goes out and the sky turns from dark brown to grey.
The dogs were feeling better now but both were resting across the back of my van on my cot. They seemed appreciative of the rest. Neither had an accident in the van, either. The hike and then the beach visit wore them out!

The small business area of Ocean Beach on Newport Avenue intrigued me. Bright lights and street musicians entertained the passers-by, so I opted to stay in the area for a meal. I chose a small corner brewpub, Pizza Port with its long family-style benches and counter order, parked the van by the entrance so I could see the dogs, ordered a small mushroom pizza and one 12-ounce glass of the day's featured Pale Ale, and ate my meal on the front patio. The beer was OK but nothing great and the pizza was just OK as well. But what ruined the mood for me was when an employee came outside to us patio patrons and told us the patio would be closing at 10pm because of the town's noise ordinance and that we would have to leave. It was 9:40pm and I still had half a beer and pizza to eat! The other three couples all got up and left and the employee started cleaning up around me. That was his way of telling me to leave. At 9:50pm I did leave, but the rush out of there ruined what could have been a decent dining experience. By 10pm the entire downtown area seemed shuttered.
Thus ended a great first full day in San Diego, fulfilling three things I had planned to do in San Diego: hike Mt Woodson, visit the Dog Beach and watch the sun set off Sunset Cliffs. I drove nine hours for this experience and I'd do it again. San Diego is worth a long visit.

It wasn't until late in the evening that I heard about the shootings at a Chatanooga Marine recruiting station, where five Marines and a sailor succumbed to the shooter's bullets. Luckily the shooter was killed by police. The shooter was a naturlized citizen born in Kuwait who apparently had depression issues. Oh, so it's quite OK for a depressed man to take up arms and start shooting people at random? Sounds like a premeditated plan. I had my radio station set to just one station during my entire time in San Diego, and that was the local NPR station. I heard the same programs all day long.
I ended up parking my van along Balboa park and sleeping soundly until 5am.

Mount Woodson (San Diego County)

Morning traffic got me up early. I was actually parked in the upscale community of Rancho Bernardo, off Pomerado Road that turns south off S5 and the Poway city park. Streets here are lined with mature Eucalyptus trees, a non-native tree from Australia that has made itself a second home in the central and southern part of California. The trees are thirsty trees, though, and there are no signs in the Poway area of water restrictions to combat the drought.
I walked the dogs around the bank building so that they could pee, grabbed breakfast at McDonald's and then headed straight to the trail head a few miles back into Poway. The trail head to the Mount Woodson trail is inside the city park and easy to find, off the Poway reservoir (which I learned later is off limits to both swimmers and dogs) and is a wide, hard-compacted trail with a steady uphill climb. Both dogs were on leashes as we started in the marine layer, walking slowly above the layer and looking down on the clouds until all that dissipated by the time we got to the top.
We started the hike at 6:35am. The gate to the park was already open but the gate cashier was still closed. Entrance fee is $5 for non-Poway residents on weekends and holidays, so it was free for everyone on this Thursday. I drove in with all the other early birds. It was still cool by then and Minnie had no issues, although I kept watching her for heat exhaustion. Her insistence on always wanting to find sticks for me to throw her tires her out fast and she's unaware of that, so I have to watch out not to entice her.

The trail quickly picked up more hikers who passed us by, and the dogs had to be at their best behavior. Several trails switch off from the main trail to Mount Woodson and I had to be vigilant. Warning signs remind people to carry at least two liters per person AND per dog, and to watch out for rattlers and mountain lions.
Mount Woodson is a mere 2733 feet above sea level, which should be an easy stroll for me since I live at 4685', but even for me the hike was a bit of a strain. I wore shorts, something I don't normally do in Arizona, but here on the trail there was nothing to worry about. I didn't recognize any of the flora, but it was a fragrant flora so unlike our Arizona desert. Upscale homes dotted the hillside, reminding us that we were in a densely-packed area. The dominant colors were sand, browns and dark greens.
The views around us as we climbed up and around chaparral and fragrant sage scrub were of the low-lying, rocky hills studded with large boulders and a few oaks. Many of the homes were well-disguised. This could easily be a hot and exposed trail without the early marine layer giving us a cool start. There are no significant trees along the trail and the few there are are well-spaced apart. The hard decomposed granite path would be a nightmare during a heavy rain storm, as dried ridges in the trail indicate.

The dogs were both well-behaved around other hikers, although Sadie did bark at other dogs on the trail.
By 8:20am the marine layer had evaporated and Minnie quickly got hot. We were at the "Potato Chip Rock" by now, the dominant feature on this hike and still a good 1/4 mile from the official peak of Mount Woodson, which is covered with several radio antennae. People hike to this "Chip" to pose on the protruding rock, but I stayed below it in the shade to give both dogs a break and to rest them for the return hike. Write-ups describing people lining up for 20-30 minutes to pose on that rock are very true, but I had no interest in doing yoga poses in front of everyone. Getting to the "Chip" required steady arm grips and a jump, something I didn't want to put Minnie through. We continued on to the official peak, where the crowds were non-existent and there was more shade here. After a few more selfies with the dogs, it was now time to get back on the descent and out of the heat! Only the few whiptails I saw sunning themselves on rocks were out. Even the loquacious Stellar Jays were in the shade.
The trail is well-marked but it's hard to figure out the exact distance of this hike as there are various ways to get to the top and many starting points. Various write-ups say this is a 6.6-mile hike, but I was on the 3.6-mile route from peak to parking lot, making this more of a 7.2-mile hike. It felt like a 7-miler anyway. A shorter route would be to start from CA67 nearby on a paved road the entire stretch, but that doesn't sound as much fun.
Crowds continued to GROW as we hiked back down, stopping more now for the dogs to rest in whatever little shade there was. We went down the way we came up, taking a short diversion to the lake for the dogs to get their paws wet. That's when I was told dogs couldn't enter the water (tell that to a hot and thirsty and determined dog!) by a kind fisherman in his boat. I took them to a more remote area where they did get their paws wet and drink a little, mindful to make sure they didn't poop or pee in the sacred water; let the many water fowl on the lake do that!
The park was hopping with visitors by the time we got back to the van by 11:40pm. Most visitors are young families who hang out by the lake shore and the concession stands. My plan now was to drive back to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach for some doggy refreshment. By now I knew the way to and from the park and the ocean and had no trouble getting there. This was the dogs' first time in salt water. How would it go?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Driving to San Diego

I finally departed at 12:32pm Wednesday for my drive to San Diego. I spent too much time packing "emergency things" that I didn't even need. Rain clouds were starting to form as I left the house; I hated missing the monsoonal rains!

I should have left at least two hours earlier, because I didn't get to the ocean until just after 9pm. But maybe leaving at the time I did also helped me avoid all traffic around Tucson, Yuma and San Diego? It was a smooth, uneventful drive. I drove the entire length of I-8 as it ended in Ocean Beach (where the Original Dog Beach is), right across the San Diego River and Sea World, which was launching its 9pm closing fire works as we arrived. The scenery didn't get exciting until I reached the hills east of Yuma.
The dogs handled the drive beautifully. The drive took me nine hours as I made a few stops for the dogs so they could pee and stretch out there legs. The heat was in the triple digits across the desert, and I had the AC on high for them. Neither complained.

The one stop I made for them was in Yuma, AZ, on the Colorado River. I let them dip their paws in the river under the bridge at Riverside park, where a few people were still chilling in the water. I had their travel water bowl filled up for them as well, so that they never were thirsty.
Once I crossed into California my anticipation peaked. San Diego is only around 176 miles from Yuma, and the scenery west of El Centro becomes hilly and then mountainous as one drives over the Cleveland National Forest, a chain of rocky, bouldery geologic formations. Small ranches dotted the scenery below, and at one point near Jacumbra, once can see the border with Mexico. I had good reception of a strong NPR station out of both Calexico, CA and San Diego (The big talk today was the US-Iran nuclear agreement that critics say is more of a business plan.) Once I reached Alpine, an unincorporated town on the far east side of the San Diego metropolitan area, I only had about 40 more miles in decent traffic.

It was already dark when I made it to Dog Beach. People were still running their dogs and that's what I did, too, keeping the dogs on the sand and away from the water. The overcast made this a very dark walk and I had to be careful where I stepped. There was much kelp on the shore, but the dogs seemed more happy just getting out and running, although they stayed near me. The blue lights of Sea World reflected in the water, but it was otherwise a quiet walk along the beach. The dogs barked at a few people but seemed more content sniffing the new smells.

My first order of the evening was getting close to my first planned hike: Mount Woodson in Poway. The streets were mostly clear but getting oriented from San Diego to CA163 was a bit unnerving at first. I eventually found a dark, quiet spot in a well-shaded bank parking lot across from a McDonald's where we rested for the night for an early start in the morning.