Exploring the Wilderness Gardens Preserve

16002913_10154297750672776_1697864211228074396_n
Had some fun with Prisma. I took the original photo at the Wilderness Gardens Preserve.

If you’ve driven through Pala on Highway 76 (in north east San Diego County), you may have seen signs for the Wilderness Gardens Preserve. The signs don’t look like they would lead to anything special; all I ever saw was the side of the road.

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to drive the ten minutes or so from our house to see what the place was all about. I’m glad we did.

The Wilderness Gardens Preserve is a surprisingly beautiful area. The reason I could never see the preserve from the road is because it is tucked away, in a tree-covered stretch of land to the west of the highway.

According to San Diego County Parks and Recreation, the Wilderness Gardens Preserve was acquired in 1973 and is the oldest County Parks and Recreation open space preserve. Its 737 acres offers four miles of trails, ranging from easy to moderate. It looked to me as though most of the trails would fall into the “easy” category. The trail that we took, the Upper Meadow Trail, might be considered moderate by some, but I’m willing to bet most hikers would find it easy to traverse.

wgp3

The views from the Upper Meadow Trail are nice. From near the top, we were able to see much of the Pala area and the San Luis Rey River corridor. Palomar Mountain and the Boucher Hill Fire Tower are visible in the east.

My favorite part of the Upper Meadow Trail was flora. Everything was green, thanks to the large amount of rain we’ve been getting this season. The ferns were thriving, moss clung to the rocks in the shade, and lichen had settled onto the trunks of many of the oak trees along the trail. Parts of it reminded me of being in the Pacific Northwest.

After cresting the trail, we looped down toward the pond, where we connected with a wide trail that forked off in three directions. I have to admit that the road-like trail took away from the whole hiking atmosphere. It looks like it might be there solely for the use of the rangers’ utility vehicles.

wgp6
A pretty area off of the main trail.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover some history in the park. Not too far from the pond, and off of the rangers’ trail sits the remnants of an old grist mill. The sign at the site tells the story of the Sickler brothers, who came from Kansas in 1868 and built a state-of-the-art griswgp8t mill. wgp7

The mill was the first in north San Diego County. Local farmers brought their grains to the mill then camped out on the land while they waited for their grains to be ground. This could take a couple of weeks, so the families who congregated at the mill used the time to socialize and trade goods.

It was designated a county historical site in 2006. Visit the links below to learn more about the Sickler brothers, the mill, and the history of the area.

I will visit the Wilderness Gardens Preserve again. My son and I tried to explore the river bed, which was dry while we were there. We didn’t get far because we had to leave. I want to look for the grinding rocks made by the Luiseño Indians that can supposedly be found in the park.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to visit the preserve … it costs three dollars to park (at the time of this post), the park is closed in the month of August because of the heat, and it’s not open every day of the week. Check the San Diego County Parks and Recreation website for details.

Sources:

http://villagenews.com/local/sickler-brothers-mill-designated-as-county-historic-site/
http://www.palagems.com/sicklers2/

Time in the Tower: High Point

2016-06-16-22-41-06

High Point
Nearly seventy feet above the highest peak on Palomar Mountain sits a 13 x 13-foot structure. With six flights of stairs in a switch-back design leading to the top, reaching this small space—the cab, as it’s called—isn’t easy. The 6,140-foot elevation at which High Point Lookout Tower’s base resides is a contributing factor to the oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-breathe experience that accompanies the climb.

But once the climb is over (and you catch your breath), it’s worth it. The 360-degree view overlooking forests, valleys, faraway mountain ranges, and desert communities is one that few get to experience.20160514_090429

20160514_090449 (1)

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am a forest fire lookout volunteer with the Forest Fire Lookout Association, San Diego-Riverside Chapter. The breath-taking views, fresh air, and solitude of the tower are perks of the job; and that’s all they are—perks. Being a forest fire lookout is more than sitting at the top of a tower, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and waiting for a fire to start somewhere. It’s about vigilance, dedication, professionalism, and partnering with local agencies to keep the area safe from wildfires.

20160514_103532
Me. That white thing in the background is Palomar Observatory

Before I started my training, I had my own ideas as to what I would be doing as a volunteer lookout. I envisioned sitting at a small table, my laptop plugged into the nearest outlet, and using the solitude to work on my sure-to-be bestselling novel. Of course I would need to look up from time to time to make sure the county wasn’t burning down, but how hard could that be? You see smoke, you call 9-1-1, right?

Wrong.

My romantic visions of being a weekend J.D. Salinger were quelled during the orientation meeting. It was then that I learned I would be responsible for weather recording and reporting, learning landmarks, and how to use the azimuth/Osborne Fire Finder.

20160430_143312
An Osborne Fire Finder—works by lining up the sight and cross hairs on a smoke. Once lined up, the degree can be found by looking along the outside of the circle. From there, the map in the center is used to determine distance and nearby landmarks.

Most importantly, I would be expected to report any smoke I see—along with its location, distance away, and nearest landmarks. Being a forest fire lookout is a lot of work! And that’s fine by me. I like a challenge and this one is rewarding for so many reasons! The hours I’ve spent training so far have confirmed that this is my kind of “job.”

20160514_170452

20160514_103041

2016-06-16-22-02-26
High Point Lookout Tower              from the ground

 

Looking Out for Forest Fires

Smokey3Palomar Mountain in San Diego County has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Camping, fishing, hiking, winter camp … these activities have been the source of most of my favorite childhood memories.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a new-to-me mountain treasure—the Boucher Hill Lookout Tower. There has been a tower located on the site since 1921, so why I had never been there nor heard of it before then, I don’t know.

One day when I brought my boys to the lookout site, there were a couple of people working in the tower who called down to us that we could come up and take a look around.

I was amazed. Really? We’re allowed to go to the top of the tower and maybe even walk along the catwalk? Heck, yeah! I pushed aside my natural reluctance to make small talk with people and dragged my boys up the three flights of stairs to the cab of the lookout tower.

I was smitten. The view, the history, the location … does it get much better than this? I knew we’d be back.

On our next visit, we waited to be invited up by the tower lookouts. This time, I was in a more talkative mood. When I found out that the lookouts were married to each other, I had to ask: Are you both rangers?

They said people often mistake them for park rangers because of their uniforms, but they are actually volunteers. Wait—volunteers? Yep. And the organization was always looking for more. I knew from that moment that I wanted—needed—to be a volunteer forest fire lookout. So the couple gave me a phone number and email address and I went went down the mountain, head filled with visions of dressing up like a forest ranger and spending time in the fire tower.

I had to wait almost a full year; the training for the season had just ended and the next session wouldn’t be held until the following April. I was disappointed, but I didn’t lose interest.

I began my training this past April and I learned pretty quickly that there is a lot more to being a volunteer fire lookout than the uniform and sitting in a tower, looking for smoke. But I’ll have to save all that for another post.

Smokey the Bear photo by Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

G is for Garnet Ghost Town

I’m a few days behind on the A-Z Challenge. I spent the weekend in Vegas and well… here I am again!

G is for Garnet Ghost Town

I was skimming through my Facebook account this evening, wasting time, when I saw this post from The Missoulian paper based out of Missoula, Montana.

Garnet Ghost Town Seeks Volunteer Resident

552c593bbda7a.preview-699
Photo Credit Bob Wick/BLM

People who know me in real life, know that I am crazy about Montana. It’s the first place I’d move if given the chance to relocate. I look at the photograph to the right and I see paradise. Hopefully you’ll read the article since I went through all the effort of making the link to it (click the photo), but if you’re like me and would rather have the condensed version of most newspaper articles, here’s the summary with a little added background:

Garnet was established in the mid-1860s, when gold and silver was discovered in this little valley, forty miles east of Missoula. At its peak, there were about 1,000 people in the valley and it was a thriving boom town. By 1905 only 150 people remained. In 1912, many of the miners had moved on and fire destroyed most of the town’s buildings. It was revived slightly during the Great Depression but was deserted soon after.

Now it is a preserved historical site and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. During August and September, the site opens up to tourists and school groups. The ghosts of the Garnet Ghost Town aren’t very reliable, I guess, because the BLM is looking for a volunteer to stay on site, guide tourists, sell souvenirs, and do some light maintenance when required.

A cabin is provided, but there is no electricity, wi-fi, or running water. The cabin is equipped with a propane stove and refrigerator and the position comes with a small food stipend.

What do you think? Would you do it?

Q is for Quatorzain

Q is for Quatorzain
A quatorzain is poetry of 14 lines.

DSC_0385

Beyond Oak Creek

Beside Juniper-lined trails
Away from the suffocating crowd
At each bend nature prevails
Under the cover of towers proud

Between arms of Emory Oak
Through the shade of Ponderosa Pine
Along the way red rock spoke
Of sentries posted in their design

Toward mesas rising high
Beneath guarded towering faces
With permission, I pass by
And into sunlit sandstone places

Thankful to be given the chance,
I sit and watch the shadows dance.

 

 

M is for Montana

M

 

M is for Montana

Anyone who knows me at all, knows I love the state of Montana.

When you live in San Diego, people look at you like you’re crazy when you tell them you want to get out. They think you’re even crazier if you say you want to live somewhere where they have actual weather. And being OK with the idea of not having the beach within a 30 minute drive is absolutely absurd.

Truth is, I would love to live in Montana.  Or Wyoming… or Washington… or Idaho. But this is the day to write about something M-related, so Montana it is. Besides that, Montana would be my first choice of places to move to.

Why Montana? Because Montana is BEAUTIFUL! I love the ocean and the beach (when it’s not crowded, which isn’t often), but I could survive if I never went to the beach again in my life. The mountains and trees– well, if you took those away from me, I would probably wither up and die.

I also like people, but would rather not be crowded out by them where ever I go.  I need fresh air.  I need space.

Two summers ago, we took our boys up north to see friends and family in Alberta, Canada (another beautiful place). We made a point to go through Montana. Actually, I did. I planned the trip and wanted to make sure we ended up in Montana since I remember loving it as a kid. I fell in love with it all over again.

I have Western Montana in my sights and I would move there in a heartbeat, if the opportunity presented itself.

L is for Lake

L

When I was ten, my family took a road trip to Canada. On our way home, we stopped in Spokane, Washington, to see my grandmother and my dad’s siblings. My Uncle Norm and my grandma took us to Brown’s Lake in the Colville National Forest. I fell in love with the trees, the mountains, and the wildness of it. Most amazing to me was that we could actually swim in this lake!

That may not seem so special to a lot of people, but in Southern California, where I was born and raised, people don’t normally swim in lakes. Lakes are for fishing. Pools and beaches are for swimming. I used to love swimming and still do, so I was very excited about swimming in an actual lake!

When we got there, though, I got a little creeped out by the idea. There were slimy-looking rocks where sand should have been, there were strange little plants growing from the floor of the lake instead of floating gobs of seaweed, and there were no crashing, rolling waves. Mostly, I didn’t like the idea of putting my feet on the slimy rocks. They didn’t make water shoes back then.

Fortunately for me, the pull of the water was too strong and before long, I got over my fear of the dark, unknown lake water. I liked swimming in the lake. No salt to burn my eyes and no chlorine to turn my blonde hair green.

The year following my introduction to lake swimming, my brother and I spent the summer in Spokane. We went camping at Brown’s Lake quite a few times. Almost every time we went we were the only campers there. It was awesome!

Anyway, inspired by the letter “L” and my great memories of my favorite lake, I wrote this poem.

Brown’s Lake

Standing, staring from the shore
in a place I’ve never been before,
wondering how it would be
to let myself go, to be so free
to step in off solid ground
and break the shackles that keep me bound.

Seemingly clear at first glance
like diamonds sparkling as they dance.
Tips of waves play with the breeze
rising, falling, and chasing they tease.
Dragonflies join in the fun–
iridescent needles in the sun.

Here am I, unsure and small,
Longing to be a part of it all.
She’s the brave one,” so they say.
Being alone will make you that way.
Fearful of what lies below
I break the surface and in I go.

Don’t fear I hear deep inside
There’s no current here, there is no tide.
Looking down, I see my feet
Where shallow water and rocks do meet.
Some stones shift and some hold fast
So much like people– present and past.

Step by step, I see them fade
I turn back, see the progress I’ve made.
Giving in to its embrace
and gentle caresses on my face.
In this way the lake holds me
Here in its grip is where I am free.

 

K is for “The Kiss”

 

It is probably one of the most iconic photos in U.S. history– the photo of the sailor kissing the “nurse” after the surrender of the Japanese on August 14, 1945. I have always been in love with that photograph. You can read an account of the kisser and the kissee in the photo on the NY Post Blog Site. It is an interesting story, but is not what this post is about.

This post, in a round-about way, leads me to my beautiful home town of San Diego, CA. The actual kiss took place in Times Square, so what does that have to do with San Diego? If you ever visit the place often referred to as “America’s Finest City”, you may find yourself at the port of San Diego, looking up at a twenty-five foot statue portraying the kissing couple.

San Diego has an extensive Naval history, of which I am very proud. The sculpture is located near another amazing tourist attraction, the USS Midway. The USS Midway Museum is a must-see for all who visit the area.

I love San Diego and am proud of its military presence. Sure, we have an awesome zoo, beautiful weather, lovely beaches, Sea World, Balboa Park, Coronado Island, Legoland, lots of great independent breweries, and so much more! If you do make it out here, make sure you see it all– including the city’s more military-focused attractions.  You won’t regret it!