Southern California

Most of our loyal readers (both of them) probably have no idea, I was born in Redondo Beach, California (a Los Angeles suburb).  Surf’s up dude!  Of course, I don’t remember any of it.  I even rooted for the Dodgers while in little league, since I figured they were from my “home” town.  So in a way, I was returning home as we crossed the California border.  

Our first stop off “the 10” in California was Joshua Tree National Park, a new destination for Teresa, but I had been there a few times before.  Turns out Josh is a strange fellow, as Teresa and I learned on a ranger walk (see below).  Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Joshua Trees are the branched limbs of this yucca-like plant.  When you enter the thicker Joshua Tree forests, you almost feel as if you are on another continent (Africa perhaps?) or another planet.  It is why Mormons passing through the area named them Joshua Trees because they look as if they are stretching their arms skyward in supplication.  And although some earlier travelers described them as grotesque, we think they are beautiful things to behold.  Some of the trees had just started to bloom when we arrived.  They sit amongst some very strangely shaped boulders and weathered granite outcrops which attract rock climbers by the thousands.  We made the mistake of visiting J-Tree (as the climbers call it) on a weekend.  The campgrounds were packed!  But we still got out on some interesting trails including a hike up to the top of Ryan mountain.  We took an interesting ranger led walk out through open desert to some rock outcrops which had philosophical and political carvings by a homesteader in the 1920’s named John Samuelson.  When the weather was clear, we had incredible views of the snow capped San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak, which has one of the nation’s steepest escarpments from base to summit.  On our way out towards the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego, we drove past the majestic San Jacinto range and one of the largest wind farms I have ever seen.

About Joshua Trees:
The Joshua Tree is the indicator plant for the Mojave Desert.  If you are looking at a Joshua Tree, chances are, you are in the Mojave desert.  The Joshua Tree is not a tree, but a closer relative to the yucca family of plants.  If you take a look at some of the photos, you’ll notice each “arm” of the “tree” has a yucca like growth on it, yet it’s outer bark looks just like tree bark.  The outer layer of bark protects a pithy inner layer which collects water during rainy seasons and stores it for later use during droughts.  They are difficult to age since they have no growth rings.  They’ve estimated the average age of Joshua Trees to be about 200 years old.  Early settlers found they were no good for building or burning, possibly the only reason they still exist.  Joshua Trees require very specific conditions to branch and reproduce, including a good freeze. Because of these qualities, healthy Joshua trees are only found above certain elevations (depending on latitude).  Pollination is performed by a very specific moth with a very specifically shaped tongue in a superb example of interdependence between animal species; neither can live without the other.

I had first read about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in a Backpacker Magazine article.  This park is absolutely huge (over 600,000 acres and growing).  It stretches all the way from the Salton Sea down to the Mexico border.  It is named for Anza, a Spanish explorer, and the borrego cimarrĂ³n (literally “wild lamb”) or bighorn sheep. Anza-Borrego is known for the occasional explosion of wildflowers, which occurs every 20 years or so when the weather cooperates.  This was not one of those years, but there were indeed some beautiful flowers that decided to bloom while we were visiting.  We also experienced some winter desert rain (aka drizzle) and gorgeous rainbows.  Much of the park is accessible to four wheel drive vehicles and we saw numerous sites from our vehicle.  We only had time to explore the area around the cute little town of Borrego Springs (which is surrounded by park lands), but managed to get out some interesting hikes.  Perhaps the highlight was our exploration of a very interesting slot canyon known simply as “The Slot.”  The canyon appears to be carved out of the badlands terrain, which you’d think would make the canyon very unstable, but indeed as you approach the bottom, it appears to solidify.  You just hope that none of those unstable rocks make their way down the canyon walls.  đŸ™‚

The next stop was LA to “unwind” for a few days and catch up with a recently married cousin of mine, Rachel.  She married Ricardo, an LA native, who was very gracious in showing us around his town.  We had a great evening at the Getty Museum enjoying drinks, overlooking LA, and listening to a really cool band called Bad Haggis.  Ricardo also showed us Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, and of course Venice Beach.  We also enjoyed some great Asian and Mexican cuisine, and hit up a little brew pub in the town of my birth called Redondo Beach Brewing Company (great red ale!)

After LA, we drove up the coast to Malibu and enjoyed some time at Point Dume State Park.  I had a quick dinner with my 2nd cousin Roger and his wife Penny at The Wood Ranch in Ventura.  That evening, we moved on to Ojai.  It was here that Teresa and I spent our first night parked clandestinely at a hotel.  We just couldn’t find any suitable pull offs, camp spots, or even hotels in the area that didn’t want to charge us a fortune.  We left before sunrise to avoid suspicion, and ended up taking a nice three hour nap up the road in the Los Padres National Forest on a pull off just before the road closed due to mud slides.  Ojai is a cute little town with an artistic and spiritual bent.  Apparently, it is home to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, and Teresa and I found some beautiful glass art in one of the galleries.

Next stop, Santa Barbara to visit a long lost friend of mine that I met at the Tom Brown Tracker School, Mark Tollefson.  Mark is now the executive director of the Wilderness Youth Project in Santa Barbara.  We shared a pretty deep spiritual experience which changed my life forever.  It was great to catch up with Mark and meet Sharon, his wife.  We hope to spend more time with them on our next trip (July?) through the area.

All I can say about Santa Barbara is… paradise!  Gorgeous beaches, beautiful mountains, and a decent little city.  Of course, everyone else thinks so too.  The median home price is around $1.4 million, making it worse than San Francisco or NYC.  Only the people aren’t terribly friendly.  I guess they can afford to be that way.  We did enjoyed visiting Santa Barbara Mission, Chumash Painted Cave including outstanding views of the mountainous Los Padres National Forest, and the Santa Barbara Brewing Company.

Our next stop was Carrizo Plains National Monument.  This is a fairly new monument and is missing from many maps, but we did eventually manage to find a road that headed into the heart of the monument.  From the sky, the Carrizo Plains probably has the best view of the San Andreas fault, but it is difficult to see from the ground.  However, Teresa and I hiked out to see a spot in the landscape where a dry creek/wash took two ninety degree turns due to relatively recent faulting action (1857) along the San Andreas.  It is hard to imagine what it must be like to experience a big earthquake here.  During former earthquakes, there are written stories indicating that fence posts across the fault were offset over 20 feet.  That’s some pretty powerful geologic action!  Due to recent rains, we were lucky enough to see green fields filled with beautiful yellow flowers throughout the monument.  After a pleasant day on the plains, we marched towards the valley of death.

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