Saturday, December 4, 2021

San Diego: Ocean Beach

One of my first views of the Pacific Ocean. This is the "dog beach" in Ocean Beach - literally a beach for dogs. You can see it was overcast, which is somewhat normal for San Diego beginning around late October or early November. I got pretty lucky though, mostly it cleared off around midday.

(I apologize for posting this out of chronological order - this was the first day of my trip to San Diego)

Until this year, I'd never been to the Pacific Ocean. This needed to be addressed. I made reservations in a San Diego Airbnb two blocks from the beach for late October. The timing wasn't ideal, because this time of year often turns foggy and overcast. I seem to have just missed the clear October weather by a few days, but it was still very much worth it, and most days it cleared off in the afternoon.

Better weather for sunset the following day.

The beach did not disappoint, with cool air and seaweed washing ashore, waves crashing on the breakwater and spraying me with salty water. Since it was a Saturday, there were too many people, but this is to be expected on a weekend, even in the off season.

A classic California scene from the pier at Ocean Beach.

I had no specific expectations of Ocean Beach, but having arrived and walked around for a mile or so, it soon became clear it was a different place than the Atlantic beach towns I've been to before. Upon research, I found out it used to be a hippy town. I don't think I would describe it that way now but despite the abundance of obviously well-funded homeowners, there is a bit of a seedy feel to it and a few interesting-looking people walking around and hanging out in alleys. About every fourth or fifth store front seems to be a liquor store. There was a hand painted sign on the house next door that said, "Ocean Beach: a sunny place for shady people."

The Airbnb, just about a two block walk from the beach. It was adequate, but it's a very old building and there are some gaps around the doors, etc.

The crowd is overall youthful, with an abundance of what I suppose are the modern equivalent of "beach bums." They remind me of the raft guide scene back when I lived my weekends on the whitewater rivers of the Southeast. There are a lot of young people here with hobbies and habits they can't afford. In whitewater, we talked about quitting our jobs and living in a van down by the river. We had "boater trash," is there such a thing as "surfer trash?" Funny. Maybe I'm getting old and grumpy? This is an interesting place but it isn't my scene.

It looks like 800 square feet here goes for up to a million. Yikes! But we are in a housing bubble and we are talking about a very desirable place to live, except for one thing: the air traffic.

There was a lot of this, and I do mean A LOT. Noise, noise, noise.

Ocean Beach is directly under the flight path for the San Diego airport. This means every day, all day, there are large airliners flying over at one or two thousand feet. It's loud. It seemed most every plane I saw was climbing out which means the engines rumble. It slowed down at night but I still awoke a few times over four nights. For that reason, I think if I go back to the area again in the future, I will try to remember not to pick Ocean Beach. There are many other beach towns along the coast of California and I assume most of them do not have that particular problem. I visited the other beach communities of La Jolla and Oceanside. These were more posh, so probably more expensive, but do not have loud air traffic flying over. I also visited Coronado but it is beside the port and has a lot of military air traffic. I'll blog on that later.

Ocean Beach isn't a bad place, and I enjoyed my stay for the most part, but the air traffic is a big negative.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

San Diego: Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, Oceanside, and the Sunset

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, California. The flags from left to right are the flag of the United States with the flag of the State of California beneath, next to the right is a historical flag of Mexico, then on the right the flag of the Spanish empire.

After my kayak tour, I was sore and exhausted, and a little sunburned despite having used sunscreen. I didn't sleep well. It was Halloween night, the neighborhood was rowdy, and I had one of the worst nightmares of my life. It will make good starter material for a horror story or novel.

For the next day, I decided to change my itinerary from bicycling to visit one of the old Spanish catholic missions in the region for a rest day. I chose Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California, which required less than an hour drive from Ocean Beach, mostly on freeway.

One of the idyllic courtyards in the mission.

The extensive and well-tended gardens.

The mission was established as part of a Spanish effort to occupy territory and get it into productive economic activity (as they saw it). This involved the conquest and enslavement of the local indigenous people, the Kumeyaay and Quechnajuichom peoples. The official interpretive materials at the modern mission site and museum do not use the words slave or slavery, though material in the audio tour of the museum does mention that the native peoples were not free to avoid agricultural work or flee the area. Spanish soldiers would bring them back forcibly and administer corporal punishment. It's funny to me that the Roman Catholic Church still can't openly acknowledge their own role in slavery, even in this day and age.

The gorgeous chapel at Mission San Luis Rey.

The mission is still in use and features a beautiful church, which still contains elements of the original construction, dating from the late 1700s, although the mission fell into disrepair after the Mexican revolution. The Catholic Church was interpreted to be hostile to secular Mexican rule so they ordered the missions disbanded. After the Mexican War, the United States used the mission as a location for troops occupying California, though there was no fighting. The centerpiece of the museum is a document signed by Abraham Lincoln gifting the property back to the Catholic Church near the end of the US Civil War, as the military no longer had any use for it. The mission was eventually rebuilt and expanded into the complex of buildings found today.

The grounds are beautiful and the interior of the church is spectacular. It's worth a visit for the architecture and the art within, and if you have patience, for the museum. I've wanted to visit the old Spanish missions in California for many years and I found this satisfactory and interesting, though now that I've done it, I think I would probably skip more detailed visits to other missions. I like the architecture but it can be viewed just by walking around and taking a few photos.

Dive Mexican food. Both the green and red salsas were face-melting hot and I suffered for twenty-four hours.

After visiting the mission, I was starved and searched the internet for a Mexican restaurant with good ratings and ended up at a little place near the beach in Oceanside. It was one of these hole-in-the-wall independent takeout places like I wrote about before. The food was tasty but eventually set my mouth aflame and I suffered for about a day afterwards. It was good but not as good as the all-knowing internet would have had me believe.

The wooden pier in Oceanside. This is one of the longest wooden piers in North America. The Ocean Beach pier is longer but is concrete and steel.

Since I was in the area and had plenty of time in the free two hour parking in front of the restaurant, I walked over to the beach. Though the restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall in an old building, the rest of the neighborhood was posh. It's obviously a place for the wealthy and spendy tourists. It's beautiful though, and the long, wooden pier is a bit nicer than the concrete pier in Ocean Beach. I enjoyed the walk, took a few photos, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to watch the sunset. With all the walking I did, the day ended up not being much of a rest day but at least I didn't waste it sitting around.

The western sky afire just after sunset at Ocean Beach, San Diego.

Speaking of which, one of my life goals for travel was to see a sunrise on the Atlantic coast and a sunset on the Pacific coast. I got a sunrise in Florida all the way back in the 90s and this trip completed that process with a sunset on the west coast. It was spectacular! The somewhat cloudy weather during the trip produced some of the best sunsets I have ever seen. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

San Diego: La Jolla Beach and Sea Caves

La Jolla Sea Caves.

I don't remember how I found out about the sea caves in La Jolla but I decided to reserve a guided tour by kayak for my first full day in the San Diego area. This turned out to be a perfect day. One of the issues with kayaking to the sea cliffs is surf conditions. I'd only previously ever been to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, where the surf is normally modest (and a couple of the Great Lakes - even smaller). West coast Pacific surf belies the name; it isn't pacific (peaceful) most of the time. The surf was modest, and the morning overcast and fog cleared up just as we began our tour.

Pacific Ocean living up to its name.

The kayaks were the sit-on-top variety and built to handle open water. They tracked straight but were heavy and little difficult to turn. I'm used to whitewater kayaks that turn on a dime. I haven't paddled much in recent years, usually only once or twice and year, and it took me a few minutes to get used to the swells. La Jolla is a preserve and teems with sea life and birds, and people watching them from various boats, paddle boards, scuba, and snorkeling. If I'd had more time, I would have snorkeled as I have a cheap setup, but for the day I was worn out by the paddling.

A couple of harbor seals. I had trouble photographing them due to currents and choppy water, but also due too many kayaks.

Much of the tour covered the local wildlife. We saw MANY leopard sharks, which are about 3 to 5 feet in length and favor the shallow, sandy waters of La Jolla. The water was remarkably clear and I could not have kept track of how many of these we saw. I also saw a handful of Garibaldi, the state fish of California, which has the same coloration as a gold fish. The waters were also filled with kelp and sea grass. On the surface and in the sky we saw numerous waterfowl. I can't remember all the species but there were the usual pelicans and gulls, but also cormorants and a single Peregrin falcon perched on the cliffs. I got a poor resolution photo of it. We also saw harbor seals. Unfortunately I struggled with the current around the rocks and failed to get a good photo of them.

The sea caves.

The cliffs along La Jolla are collapsing gradually into the sea. The guide pointed out a place where a structure had collapsed many years before. Some of the houses along the cliffs are uninsurable and can only be sold "cash only." Other sections of the cliffs, including the caves, are more stable.

In one of the caves.

We got the opportunity to paddle into the caves one by one. Some people got lucky and experienced whitewater, but I was unlucky and the waters were placid despite waiting a couple of minutes. There was a baby seal sleeping on a shelf. The guide suggested it had fallen asleep when the tide was high and then was afraid to drop the few feet to the water to leave. The seal did not react to our presence, but there were many kayakers visiting cave, so probably they are a little bit tame.

On the same topic, probably one of the few issues with La Jolla, was how busy it was on the weekend. My trip was on a Sunday, so I assume it can be worse on Saturday, but the waters were crowded with swimmers, divers, snorkelers, and several different kayak guide groups. The community of La Jolla seems to be fairly wealthy and the small business district has a few shops and restaurants. I think there may be some other business areas that I didn't get around to visiting. It's a lovely neighborhood and I'm sure weekdays are wonderful. Other than crowding, it was an amazing experience and was my favorite thing from my trip to San Diego.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Road To San Diego

Some of the strangest mountains I've ever seen on I-8 in Southern California. They erode into piles of boulders that almost look like construction debris.

I've wanted to visit San Diego since I was in elementary school, which was so long ago it almost seems like it happened to someone else. San Diego has a reputation as a city with perfect weather year round, long beaches on the Pacific Coast, towering sea cliffs, and plenty of culture. I made plans for much needed time off and a road trip. Having been there, I can't entirely confirm the "perfect weather," but it is remarkable that the daily low and high temperatures hardly varied while I was in town, day or night, five degrees difference Fahrenheit, about 2 degrees Celsius. Incredible. But this is less true the farther inland you travel.

The drive itself proved to be interesting. I covered hundreds of miles of territory that was "new to me." I grew up in North Central Indiana until I turned 16, at which time I moved to the Southeast. After that, the story complicates, but suffice it to say that I've never seen such diversity of climate and landscape as I did on the drive from my home in Flagstaff to San Diego. It's an amazing landscape, though severe in places.

Dry, really dry, very extremely dry mountains from some rest area on I-8.

The shortest route from Flagstaff to San Diego travels south around the west side of Phoenix into Southern Arizona, onto Interstate 8, then along the Mexican border. It passes through a part of Arizona I'd never seen. The drive starts with classic Sonoran desert with saguaro cacti. Some of the areas are severely dry, though there is some irrigated agriculture. As always in the basin and range region, the highways usually pass through broad, flat valleys with mountain ranges in the distance.

When you reach Yuma, things green up as the Colorado river valley is farmed, but you can see the desert is extremely dry there without irrigation. I thought I would see Joshua Trees but didn't notice any. The most notable thing I have to say about this area is that Yuma is a larger town than I thought it was, which is not to say it is large.

After you cross into California there is an erg (a sea of dunes); beautiful, impressive.

Massive dune field ahead.

You have to stop at a checkpoint a couple of miles into the state. Why do they do that? They didn't search my car but just waved me on through. After a few miles, there was another checkpoint run by the Border Patrol, which makes more sense. They waved me through there too. I assume they are looking for people who look Latin American, or perhaps just vehicles with an unusual number of people in them, as this seems to be a common practice of human smugglers.

After a while you drive out of the Colorado Desert (as the dry areas are called near the Colorado River), and enter agricultural areas that are recognizable from a thousand movies and TV shows filmed in the area over a hundred years. It's a region of small towns, green fields, irrigation ditches, and water towers. Then you go back into a deep rain shadow of the Peninsular Ranges as you approach the coast. Some of the mountains there are among the driest, most desolate places I have ever seen, rivaling even Death Valley. Yet you crest out over 4000 feet above sea level in the mountains before beginning the descent to the coast.

I was in greater San Diego before I realize it. There are expensive homes in high mountain valleys as you approach the city. Some of these have flowing streams and pine trees. As I approach the coast, I could see a strange cloud bank that I realized might mark the beaches. This proved to be true.

I finally dropped down onto a coastal plain just three or four miles from my vacation rental. One of the most surprising things about San Diego is that the terrain is mostly hilly to mountainous. For some reason I didn't expect that. Only areas right along the coast are flat, and even then not all of the coast is flat. I will write about sea cliffs in a later entry.

On the whole, the drive was interesting, but kind of oppressive in places. I have several friends who say desert is more beautiful than forest, but I prefer forest. Parts of the Sonoran Desert are beautiful and team with life for 6 months out of the year, but the Colorado Desert conveys a sense of emptiness, thirst, and desolation.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Hiking the Wilson Canyon Trail


Midgley Bridge, Highway 89A. This is the Huckaby Trail but the Wilson Canyon Trail also starts near the bridge.

The desert hiking season has begun. I considered a hike in the Grand Canyon but decided I wasn't quite in shape for it yet. Instead I selected the Wilson Canyon Trail just north of Sedona. It's right on the edge of the desert and features a combination of red rock, desert vegetation, and a few ponderosa pine trees. I've been hiking every winter in the Sedona area since I moved to Arizona in 2015, but for some reason I never did any hiking in Oak Creek Canyon. Always before I hiked in Sedona or to the south or west of town. Wilson Canyon is one of the side tributary canyons of Oak Creek.

A view of the canyon, with the mixed vegetation and alpenglow on Wilson Mountain.

Part of the problem is parking. The trailheads have limited parking. This is somewhat due to the terrain being unfavorable for roads, parking lots, or buildings for that matter. It's a steep sided canyon. As a result, to hike there on a weekend, you really have to get a very early start or you will find yourself unable to park at all. I left the house at about 5:50 am, running behind scheduled because I realized at the last minute that I hadn't fed the cats.

When I arrived, there were two cars in the parking lot already. By the time I left, there were five or six. By the time I finished the canyon trail about an hour later, the lot was full.

There are frequent glimpses of the cliffs along the trail. You can see the dense undergrowth typical of the canyon here.

The hike starts off on what is obviously an old road, but eventually turns to single track. Due to a couple of (currently dry) waterfalls, you don't have to descend into the watershed, despite the depth of the canyon where the bridge crosses. You just walk up into the drainage. The trail follows the dry stream bed and crosses several times. There were still some puddles from rain last week, but there was no flowing water.

The trail crosses the stream here. You can see leftover rain water in the creek bed.

I didn't see a soul after the first quarter mile or so, including one backpacker hiking out after a night. There are a couple of trail intersections, so it's hard to say which way he'd come from. I always get a little nervous hiking alone near the start or end of a day, that's when the large predators come out. I saw very fresh droppings, but analyzed them to likely be from javelina rather than a predator. I still kept my head on a swivel though. The brush was quite dense in the canyon. I heard some animals moving around but nothing I estimate to be large.

End of Trail, but keep going. There is a goat path just ahead and to the right that climbs to spectacular views!

The trail ended with a sign, but I could see a smooth dome of red rock above and to the right and suspected it would be a good place to view the scenery. The stream bed was smooth and beckoned, so I proceeded a few feet beyond it and was rewarded to see a steep "goat path" up onto the dome. The views from the top were breathtaking!

Unfortunately I don't know how to use a camera properly so most of my photos weren't as good as I thought they would be, but the experience is better than the photos anyway. I hung out for several minutes just taking it in.

These photos don't do it justice. This high, hanging valley at the top of the drainage was absolutely beautiful.
The return hike was fast, being downhill, and I passed a few hikers going up the drainage, and a couple carrying climbing equipment. My watch showed only 2.5 when I got back to the parking so I decided to take the Huckaby Trail to add on some miles. I checked my map and hit the trail. It goes under the bridge right away and there is a vista of Oak Creek and the towering red rock spires on the other side. It's a beautiful canyon, marred only by the sound of cars passing on the highway.

A view of Oak Creek Canyon from the vista on the Huckaby Trail. The sun was getting high and I had difficulty taking photos to the east. I used what shade was available.

I enjoyed views of the bridge and Oak Creek Canyon then followed the trail down steep switchbacks on an old jeep road to the creek, where the trail crosses. The creek is a perfect mountain brook, babbling and whispering over rounded rocks. I hung out for a couple of minutes just taking it in and relaxing. But I wasn't interested in getting my feet wet, so I followed the trail back up to the junction with Allen's Bend Trail and followed it to the access road for Grasshopper Point. The road obviously goes back down the creek again. I was starting to feel like I wanted to go home so I turned around and went back to the car.

Oak Creek. Flowing water is very rare around Flagstaff, and in Arizona in general. I love visiting a creek or river when I get the chance!

Another view of the bridge from the Huckaby Trail. You can see it was a little bit rocky compared to the Wilson Canyon Trail.

In the parking lot, all the spaces were taken and people were parking in front of no parking signs and contended for the space I was vacating. That's Sedona hiking for you, or at least Sedona parking. I was glad to have gotten an early start and been able to hike for almost an hour without seeing anybody in the beginning of the hike.

It was a beautiful, perfect morning, and I was happy to have gotten in over 4 miles of hiking, all before lunch. I arrived home in late morning with plenty of time to watch Purdue knock off the #2 ranked football team in the country! That was the best Saturday I've had in a while.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Fall Colors 2021


The aspen trees were great last weekend on the north slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. I was on call and I get nervous driving this far from town but couldn't resist. Anyway, I had a laptop with me and got up to 4 bars of LTE there.

I enjoy looking at the changed leaves every year. I fret at the necessity to hit a particular window of time. It's like I'm afraid I'm going to miss it. Yet I also dread the crowds and the uncertainty of finding the best colors. This is compounded by the change in elevation around the region. It's a guessing game as to which place to visit. I found some good leaves two weekends in a row now, so I'm going ahead with planning some desert hikes.

Zoomed image of the small aspens in the burn scar on the slopes of Kendrick Peak. The mountain looks short here because the base elevation is high. It's over 10,000 ft. above sea level.

One of my neighbor's maple trees. Yes, it's probably non-native to Flagstaff, but it's beautiful!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Self Censorship


Snow and deputies today at the house across the street.

I briefly posted on Facebook about sheriff's deputies visiting the house across the street earlier today. I complained about not being to able move away from crime and associated police activity and live in a safe neighborhood. I decided to delete the post after a few minutes, even though I'm mentioning it here. But this is my blog, so I can write through the issues brought forth by the post and why I withdrew it, and explain them to myself and anyone else reading.

First: It seems like my post might have seemed judgmental. There may be people in my friends list that have been arrested before. It doesn't mean a person is a devil because they have been arrested. There are many reasons people get arrested, some worse than others, and generally most criminals deserve a second chance. Also, the deputies weren't necessarily there to arrest someone. They might have been simply serving papers. However, they certainly acted like they were prepared to be shot at. That is when I decided to herd myself and my cats back inside.

Second: I thought the post might have felt insulting to people who have lower income than me. I have had to live in a couple of "bad" neighborhoods in the past. It's one of the reasons I'm keenly aware of crime. Usually it isn't a choice to live in a high crime area. You live where you can afford to live. I think stereotypes about bad neighborhoods are not necessarily wrong in general, but might be wrong about a particular household.

Third: The owner of the particular house in question lives there but typically subleases spare bedrooms to others. So there is some question of who the deputies were looking for. Obviously it was likely to be only one of the people living there, not all of them. That said, this isn't the first time police have been at that house in force. The last time it was city police. That's what you get when you have renters in your neighborhood. No, not all renters are criminals, but criminals are unlikely to be able to buy, so wherever you have rentals in quantity, you have elevated crime rates.

Fourth: Although police activities are generally public knowledge, it kind of violates the privacy of anyone living in the house.

So yes, I am judgmental, but I don't necessarily think I need to broadcast that into my personal social network. A blog has more room for nuance and explanation, and social media is designed specifically to spread information like wildfire, and by information, I mean rumor.