March 30, 2010

Ventura, Channel Islands, and Mangoes

Yesterday, we cruised up to Ventura to visit the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, as well as, to do some shopping and other assorted business.

Hilina loved the visitor center with its live tide pool, life-sized Elephant seal and other species of the Channel Islands, and especially the dolphin exhibit. Linda was fascinated with the pygmy mammoth that was uncovered in the sediments living on the islands.

We gathered information about getting to, camping, and hiking on the islands. We very much want to return to do an excursion on these unique islands full of endemic species, like the island fox, Santa Cruz scrub jay, and numerous plant and animal species. But, we figure we'll have to either wait until Hilina can hike 5 miles or more on her own so we can carry all the camping gear into the backcountry or have a chance to do it on our own with Hilina staying with the grandparents.

With temperatures in the 70's, at least until today since a storm is approaching, we have been feeling the tropical theme. We bought fresh ripe mangoes and Hilina is going hog wild over them!

Tomorrow, we depart Malibu and head up towards Santa Barbara.

March 27, 2010

OK, this is getting rediculous.... Camping at Malibu Beach

OK, I am starting to think this whole year-long adventure in the travel trailer is really getting too good to be true. Here we sit, camping at Malibu Beach RV Park with a view of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island right out our window, with a lovely 74 degree sunny day and all for just $36 per night.

Are you serious? While doing laundry yesterday, I picked up a real estate brochure. The going price for most of the small beach front homes you see in Malibu was between $1.2 and $2.5 million dollars. BUT, they will allow you to lease them for around $20,000-$50,000 per month! So, let's break that down...

Riding bikes at Malibu Creek State Park

A $30,000 a month lease works out to about $1000 a day. Yet, here we are, sitting on the beach, with the same views, Wifi, showers, cable TV if we want it, even a jacuzzi for under $40/day. Hmmm, wonder what the better deal is?

M*A*S*H site with old prop cars.

Anyways, we took a bike ride at Malibu Creek State Park yesterday morning up to the old M*A*S*H filming site. There were stakes to show where the tents were and in the shed an exhibit with pictures and a map showing where everything was located. Along the way, we followed a beautiful riparian strip of sycamores, ash, and willows. What a great park.

We'll stay here at Malibu Beach RV Park for 3 nights and then head up the coast towards Ventura and San Luis Obispo. The ultimate plan is to arrive at Calistoga to meet friends by April 23rd. The rest will be made up along the way.

Anyways, we definitely do not take this experience for granted. We don't consider ourselves "lucky" because I believe you need to put yourself in the position for "luck" to occur. But, we certainly consider ourselves quite fortunate to be able to experience life and live it to the fullest.

March 25, 2010

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

Today we decided to drive into Los Angeles to visit the La Brea Tar Pits. I remember my parents taking me when I was a little boy, but Linda had never been there (to her recollection). Because of our great interest in Pleistocene Megafauna and Hilina's great interest in any animals, it was a wonderful day.

Hilina went absolutely crazy in that museum, running around telling all the little kids (and some older ones) what the names of the animals were.

There was even a moment when she pushed her way to the front of a visiting elementary school class to announce that the woolly mammoth has lots of hair because it was so cold outside (she learned that when we saw one at the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson over a month ago and remembered.

We also toured the asphalt seeps around the complex. Because of how California was formed, by the accretion of oceanic islands and the crumpling of oceanic sediments by the compression of the San Andreas Fault, petroleum reserves under the ground have faults and dikes they can follow directly up to the surface.
There are seeps all over the compound. They are not dangerous to touch, in fact the excavators have the stuff all over their hands and bodies. But, it sure is sticky!

When crude oil makes it to the surface, the methane, kerosene, and other more volatile parts of it evaporate into the air, leaving behind a thick sticky goo called asphalt (technically tar is a compound left behind by the distillation of wood products). This asphalt is what trapped over 100,000 animals over the past 40,000 years.

It is the best preservation site in the world of Ice Age Megafauna. An amazing assortment of species went extinct between 13,000 and 6,000 years ago. This includes Saber-tooth cats, American lions, short-faced bears, Western horses, American camels, llamas, two species of giant bison, three species of ground sloth, dire wolves, four species of condors, multiple eagle and hawk species, giant storks among many others. Some 600+ species of animals have been found in the pits.

One of the biggest questions is, why did some species go extinct when their habitat remained. Horses, camels, and pigmy pronhorns? When horses and camels were brought to America from Europe/Africa they did quite well living in the wild. But, for reasons unknown, they went extinct.

March 24, 2010

Malibu Creek State Park

Malibu Creek State Park is a beautiful park located in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The campground is somewhat spartan, but offers beautiful views of chaparral covered ridges and Malibu Canyon is right now the way.

I had quite a bit of work to do today, so Linda and Hilina wandered off to Malibu Creek and the "Rock Pools" about 2 miles away by trail. Hilina hiked the whole way, but Linda carried her back.

Malibu Creek holds the distinction of having the southernmost population of sea-going steelhead in the Pacific. Unfortunately for those few remaining steelhead (often numbering no more than a few dozen to a couple hundred), there is a an old, completely silted in dam just 2.5 miles upstream from the ocean. If they were to spend $18 million dollars to remove it, it would open up another 8 miles of prime streamside habitat. It is said that in the 1930's and 40's Clark Gable and many other Hollywood types would catch huge steelhead when the runs were in the thousands.

Although I was unable to join them on the stroll to Malibu Creek, after lunch we did cruise up to the summit ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains at over 2500 feet above the ocean for a 6 mile hike (well more like 8 for me). That adventure will be detailed in a Hikemasters trail guide soon.

By the way, Malibu Creek State Park is the site where M*A*S*H, the old Planet of the Apes movies, the A-team, and a whole bunch of other movies and tv shows were filmed. It was originally created in the 1970's by piecing together properties belonging to  Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Paramount Studios, among others.

March 23, 2010

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Lake Elsinore

We have moved our operations north of Los Angeles, as we are now staying at Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for the week. We just arrived this afternoon, but it is amazing that located just 15 miles away is a megalopolis of 15 million people. Because here, at this virtually empty campground on a Tuesday night, there is only silence broken by the occassional sounds of bluebirds calling in an ash tree, a raven on the cliffs above, or the wind rustling through the oak trees.

Lake Elsinore

That being said, things will change on Friday night as this and every other campground campground is completely booked to capacity. In fact, that has become the new challenge of moving into California, which is weekend crowds. While 5 days a week we can do whatever we want, it is becoming a challenge to figure out where we will stay on Friday and Saturday nights. Virtually every campground and RV park I can find on the internet is booked solid every weekend and empty mid-week.

Anyways, yesterday we ventured inland across the Santa Ana mountains and down to Lake Elsinor. It is a pretty nice looking community on the shores of the largest natural lake in So. California. The valley is formed by the Elsinor Fault, a major side branch of the San Andreas Fault. Located a few miles south of the lake is the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

This preserve of grasslands and coast live oak stands contains a rarity in So. California, which are the vernal pools containing endangered frogs, brine shrimp, and a major breeding ground for several species of wetland birds on the mesa. Vernal pools dry up completely every summer and only fill up because the soils beneath them are too hardpacked to allow any drainage. In this particular case, the mesa was formed by a basalt lava flow on top of sedimentary rocks that both resisted erosion and prevents rain from draining into it.

The scenery was beautiful, especially the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains and Mount San Jacinto in the distance. It was the first time we saw poison oak fully leafed out, so we told Hilina about it and she stayed away. But, she again did an amazing job hiking over 2 miles of the 6 mile roundtrip loop. She made it to the vernal pools where she was extremely excited to see the tadpoles, brine shrimp, and various aquatic insects flittering about.

We think she is really going to enjoy getting a dissecting scope in the near future to examine creatures up close. The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is truly a treasure and preserves what little is left of the native Southern California habitats, as the region is continually converted into millions of homes.

March 21, 2010

The Desert Chapter Ends, the Coastal Chapter Begins

Today, we left behind the desert chapter of our trip and began the Pacific Ocean chapter. With one last look at the desert below, we left the Laguna Mountains and took off for the coast. We drove I-8 west towards San Diego and then hopped on I-5 north.

We are staying at San Clemente State Beach located mid-way between San Diego and Los Angeles and right at the northern edge of Camp Pendleton.

Hilina was so very excited to finally get to the ocean and play at the beach. We'll be working our way up the coast from here on out. We'll get to the Bay Area by late April and back to Washington by mid-to-late May.

But, I must admit feeling a bit wistful about leaving the beautiful desert landscapes and vegetation behind. Especially after fighting San Diego traffic and seeing so much development along the coast.

March 20, 2010

Laguna Meadows - The mountainous edge between the Coast and Desert

Located in a narrow bowl at 5,000-6,000 feet elevation are the beautiful Laguna Meadows. This stretch of mountains in southern San Diego county rises quickly from the Pacific Ocean and then suddenly drops precipitously down to the Anza-Borrego desert on the other side. But, within this bowl, you would have no idea you are almost in Mexico with the desert or ocean nearby.

Beautiful alpine meadows are lined with massive and ancient Jeffrey pines, riddled with woodpecker holes filled with acorns. Also mixed in are the largest California black oaks we've seen yet. Small vernal lakes dot the meadow floor.

This loop I'll describe probably runs about 6-7 miles, but since my GPS batteries died along the way, I am not completely sure. Hilina set an all-time record for hiking during this hike by covering 2.0-2.5 miles. We usually hike close to he nap time. We start with her walking until she feels tired. Then we put her in the pack to nap for an hour or so while we trek quickly to cover some mileage. Then, when we wakes up, we stop for snack and drink and then let her walk the rest of the way (at least what she can).

Since we stop every 10 feet or so for Hilina to examine ants, beetles, lichens, mosses, or whatever catches her eyes, the last stretch is often slow going, but an valuable learning experience for her. I am not sure how many two year olds can identify the differences between granite, mica, and sandstone already. She also corrected me yesterday when I said "Look at the lichens" and she replied correctly "No, those are mosses" to the ones I didn't notice.

This hike starts at the Laguna campground. It passes the small vernal pond called Little Laguna Lake, then gets on the Big Laguna Trail until it drops in the Laguna Meadows and along Big Laguna Lake. The trail splits north and south. If you turn north, you can follow the lake and then up to the edge of the meadows passing huge pines and black oaks. At the northern edge of the meadows, you will meet the Sunset Trail which will turn due south and climb to low ridgeline above you.

As the ridgeline is more sun exposed, the vegetation changes to open scrub oak and ceonothus chaparral and views open up to the west to include Cuyamaca Peak, the San Diego foothills, and the Pacific Ocean. To the south, you can look at the hills in Baja and see the smog plume of Tijuana.

The trail then descends down into the meadows again and to the small Water of the Woods pool. Following the Big Laguna Trail east, you cross the meadows again and find yourself back at Big Laguna Lake and shortly thereafter back to the campground.

Hilina examining some leeches we pulled out of one of the ponds. She was fascinated by the idea that they swim and suck your blood. But, she didn't try it out.

Hilina examining the red bark of a Manzantia

By the way, we'll have to start watching her more closely once the poison oak and ticks start coming out. But, it is fine line between discouraging her interest in exploration and safety. But, she is actually very good about not touching things we tell her are dangerous.

March 18, 2010

Hiking Volcan Mountain Preserve, San Diego County, CA

 Well, we are still in the mountains of eastern San Diego county enjoying upper 60's at 5000 feet while the desert below us swelters. Apparently, this was just not meant to be a wildflower year as the rains were plentiful, but late and the temperatures stayed too cool at the wrong time and then went too hot too fast.

We'll be up here for a couple more days before moving to the coastline. Yesterday we hiked on Volcan Mountain Preserve, a San Diego county park directly above Julian. It really reminded us of hiking in Italy.

It was pastoral. It was a mixture of oak woodlands, grassy prairies, and chaparral slopes. There were apple orchards and vineyards, houses, and we could see the coast in the distance. While not exactly wilderness, it is a beautiful area for sure. Enough so, we've decided to stay up here a couple more days and see the even higher Laguna Mountains to the south.

March 17, 2010

Culp Valley - 3000 feet above the low desert

Located on the S-22 road leaving out of the Borrego Springs Valley is a spectacular granite wonderland of boulders, cliffs, and scrubby oaks. This area is home to Culp Valley and a nice hike you can do when you want to escape some of the heat of the desert.

With temperatures in the low 80's below, we climbed to 3500 feet by road, stopped at the Pena Spring parking area and hiked up hill on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

It was a beautiful landscape with sweeping views down onto Borrego Springs Valley and the Salton Sea in the distance. The vegetation was made up of scrub oaks, manzanitas, sugar sumac, and a variety of yuccas and cactus.

Hilina hiked about 2 miles of the 5.5 mile roundtrip. It was a pretty relaxing and enjoyable day.

Borrego Springs below the Santa Rosa Range