March 30, 2012

Channel Islands - Like Nowhere Else

Although Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of Southern California, it does take a bit of determination to plan a visit.  Access is only by boat, which consumes an entire day, or by small plane, which is a half-day tour but flies only on the weekend this time of year. However you manage to get there, you will be rewarded with a place like nowhere else in the world.

Channel Islands National Park is comprised of five islands that are located between the mainland coast and the deep ocean.  The Channel Islands were never connected to the mainland, and this isolation allowed the plants and animals there to evolve independently, much like the Galapagos Islands of South America.  The islands contain 145 plants and animals that are not found elsewhere.  

Tim and I arrived on Santa Cruz Island yesterday on a boat operated by Island Packers, and it was a rough ride that resulted in more than one case of seasickness.  Because of the low tide, we were unable to dock at the pier and were shuttled to the island by small skiffs.  That was a fun experience!

Making Our Way to Santa Cruz by Skiff
Another Group Arriving on Shore
We joined a tour led by a very knowledgeable volunteer naturalist and learned about the natural and cultural resources on Santa Cruz.  We hiked up to Cavern Point, where we were rewarded with magnificent coastal views of the ocean and the high cliffs.

The View from Cavern Point
Sarah and Tim
High Cliffs
Scorpion Anchorage
Rocky Beach
Santa Cruz Island was formerly a sheep ranch, and several of the historic structures have been preserved.  Ranching, however, had a detrimental impact on the native vegetation, and restoration efforts have been underway since the park was established in 1980.

Scorpion Ranch House
Farm Equipment
A Reconstructed Windmill in the Distance
Blacksmith Shop
Although we were never able to spot an island fox, we enjoyed the expansive views, the green hills and the pretty flowers.  But most of all we relished the tranquility that lures people back again and again.  Channel Islands National Park is a very special place indeed.

Green Hills
Island Morning Glories
Island Morning Glory

Everyone Back on the Boat

March 28, 2012

Another Mission in San Juan Capistrano

We said “good-bye” to Chuck and Alice this morning after a wonderful visit with them.  I know I sound like a broken record, but visiting with family and friends around the country has really been one of the highlights of this trip.

Our plan was to make it through the traffic of Los Angeles and pick up the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica.  But first we stopped in San Juan Capistrano for a break and to visit the mission there.

After visiting the Mission San Diego de Alcala on Monday, we wanted to see what is said to be the most picturesque of all the twenty-one missions.  San Juan Capistrano, the seventh of the California missions, was founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra.  It is probably the best known mission, judging by the numbers of visitors who were there today.

The mission is a beautiful property and features the ruins of the Great Stone Church, a cathedral-like building that was constructed between 1797 and 1806.  Tragically, the church was mostly destroyed by the earthquake of 1812.  The walls crumbled and the domes caved in, killing forty-two neophytes who were attending mass.  Although the church was never rebuilt, the ruins have been stabilized.

The Bell Wall and Great Stone Church Ruins
The Great Stone Church
The Serra Chapel, where Father Serra is known to have held mass, has been restored, and features an elaborate baroque altar from Barcelona.  The mission is also known for its beautiful landscaped grounds, particularly in the central courtyard, or plaza.  

The Serra Chapel
The West and North Wings Face the Central Courtyard
The Central Courtyard
Water Lilies Are Blooming in the Moorish-Style Fountain
Arcades Line the Wings
The Flowers Are Spectacular
The most endearing story associated with San Juan Capistrano is the return of the Cliff Swallows to the mission around March 19 every year from their wintering grounds in South America.  Tim and I purchased a CD recording of the famous song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano,” and listened to it as we drove away.  It will be a nice memory of our visit.

After leaving San Juan Capistrano, we made our way through Los Angeles, and were pleasantly surprised that the traffic moved more smoothly than expected, with just a few back-ups.  We exited at Santa Monica and were on the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the great scenic roads in the United States.  We drove through Malibu and watched the surfers waiting for the perfect wave in the Pacific Ocean.  We enjoyed the ride, where the road hugs the coast for much of the way. 
Mugu Rock at Point Mugu Along the Pacific Coast Highway
As the highway turned inland, we started to see fields of strawberries.  Dozens of workers were picking berries in each of the fields.  It made me want to stop and sample a few ripe berries, but we kept going until we reached Ventura, where we stopped for the evening.  There’s another mission here, which we may visit in the next day or two.

Strawberry Fields Forever

March 27, 2012

San Diego Sights

San Diego is one of my favorite cities, although I had only visited once before.  Yesterday, Tim’s sister Alice generously offered to give us a tour of the city, which made getting around so much easier.  What impressed us was how easily she negotiated the traffic and never lost her cool even when we seemed to be on a wild goose chase looking for a particular address.

Our first stop was Cabrillo National Monument.  Of course I was able to get my National Park passport stamp there, but we also enjoyed the park itself.  The views from the park, which is located on Point Loma, are breathtaking.  The entire city of San Diego and the bay lay before us, and we could see for miles.  We couldn’t seem to take our eyes from the view.  

The View Toward the San Diego Skyline Is Breathtaking
Alice and Tim
Sarah and Tim
The Ocean View Is also Spectacular
Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the sixteenth century exploration of the Pacific coastline, which became known as the “coast of New Spain.”  In 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo arrived in today’s San Diego Bay and became the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States.  The park also preserves the picturesque Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was lit for the first time in 1855.  Unfortunately, what was thought to be an ideal location on the headland turned out to be less than satisfactory.  The area’s frequent fog and low clouds often obscured the light, and the lighthouse was abandoned in 1891.
Statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
We made our way downtown from there and enjoyed a seafood lunch at Anthony’s Fish Grotto, which is located along the harbor.  We passed the San Diego Maritime Museum on the way and gazed at the tall ships, and a submarine, that are anchored in the harbor.

The Star of India
We drove through downtown San Diego on our way to Mission San Diego de Alcala, the very first mission established in California.  The mission was founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest, and was the first of a chain of twenty-one missions along the California coast.  I’ve always been fascinated by the California missions and especially wanted to visit this one.

Mission San Diego de Alcala
Interior of the Church

The Campanario
Father Serra in the Garden

Known as the Mother of the Missions, this church is a beautiful structure, and its history is fascinating. The mission was attacked and destroyed by Indians just one year after completion.  The church was rebuilt with an outer defense wall between 1776 and 1790, and the existing church was enlarged in 1813.  By the early twentieth century, only the fa├žade of the church and the arcade were still standing, but the complex was rebuilt and fully restored in 1931.

The mission is especially noted for its tall campanario, or bell wall, which contains five bells.  A re-creation of Father Serra’s living quarters is also located on the property.  I especially loved the profusion of flowers that were blooming in the gardens.  The vibrant colors were a sight to behold.

The Arcade
Inside the Arcade
Flowers Carpet a Hill
Flowers Enliven the Courtyard

Flowers Decorate a Wall
Flowers Are Everywhere
We had a wonderful time in San Diego and couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. We decided to just hang out today, and Chuck and Alice helped us with a few projects on the RV.  It was a relaxing day, yet we accomplished a lot of things we had wanted to do for quite some time.  

March 25, 2012

Desert Rats

California!  Yes, we have made it to the west coast.  Our arrival in California on Friday morning means that we’re on the last leg of our journey.  We’ve been on the road for six months with less than three months remaining.  It’s been a whirlwind so far, and an amazing journey, but I’m confident that some of the best parts may be yet to come.

California, Here We Come!
We entered California at the extreme southeast corner of the state and drove through the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, the largest mass of sand dunes in the state.  They certainly were impressive, even just viewing them from the road.  We made our way north through the Imperial Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in California, and could see the Salton Sea in the distance.  

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area
Fields in the Imperial Valley
Tim and I were on our way to the desert to meet Tim’s sister Alice and her husband Chuck.  Chuck has a desert getaway in Ocotillo Wells that he calls “Rancho Deluxe.”  It’s located on the edge of Anza-Borrego State Park, and that’s where we’re spending the weekend.  Chuck’s brother Arnie and his son Lucas joined us, and we spent Friday evening hearing stories about their adventures in this amazing place.

Kitty Tagging Along for a Ride on the Golf Cart with Chuck
Anza-Borrego is California’s largest state park, but it is still a relatively undiscovered area. Adjacent to the park is Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, where Chuck, Arnie and Lucas spend much of their time.  It’s a mecca of sorts for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and is where people go to ride dune buggies, dirt bikes and other assorted vehicles.  Neither Tim nor I had even ridden a dune buggy, but that would change on Saturday.  We were here to enjoy the desert and Chuck’s “toys.”

Anza-Borrego State Park
After breakfast in Borrego Springs, we wandered through an art fair in town and then went off to explore one of the coolest features of the area.  Scattered throughout Borrego Springs are giant, welded metal sculptures of prehistoric animals that once roamed the area.  Dinosaurs, horses, camels, eagles and other assorted animals rise from the desert floor. Dennis Avery, a local resident, had a vision to populate the desert with art installations that everyone can enjoy.  All of the sculptures are located on private land, but anyone can drive to them and walk around and admire their beauty.  The latest addition is a sea serpent that spans both sides of the road.  What an incredible thing for someone to offer to the public.

TIm Said, "I Have Seen the Elephant"
Tim, Sarah, Alice, Chuck and Lucas with the Serpent
A Wild Ride in the Desert
The Grasshopper and the Scorpion
Chuck took me out for a ride on the dune buggy, and what a ride it was!  We ascended Blow Sand Hill and roared on toward Devil’s Slide.  I held on for dear life, and was sure we’d tip over when we rounded the hills, but the ride was exhilarating nonetheless.  What a thrill!  We stopped at Shell Reef to watch the bikers climb the dunes before heading back on Shell Reef Expressway.  I just love the names of the trails in the park.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever ride in a dune buggy again, but it was an experience not to be missed.  Arnie took Tim out for a ride later in the afternoon, and his experience seems to have equaled mine.

Sarah Is Stylishly Dressed for a Dune Buggy Ride
The View Coming and Going - Hold On!
Riding on Shell Reef
Tim, Lucas and Arnie Are Rready for their Ride
A Wild Ride
We’ve eaten very well in the desert, and Saturday was no exception.  Chuck grilled steaks and baked potatoes, and Alice prepared asparagus, and we feasted like we were starving.  

A Desert Sunset
We left the desert this morning and drove to Ramona, California, where Chuck and Alice live.  It was a beautiful drive, and we saw green hillsides for the first time in weeks as we crossed the mountains into the San Felipe Valley.  The wildflowers were also a nice treat, and the fields were a beautiful yellow.  Although I truly appreciate the beauty of the desert, I have to admit that I was excited to get back into the green hills.

San Felipe Valley
Beautiful Hillsides
Laptop Kat
Alice and Chuck had planned a party for the afternoon, and this gave us a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends who live nearby.  I was also able to sample Alice’s famous chili, which was even better than had been reported. 

Tim and I had a blast this weekend and had experiences that were new to both of us.  Chuck and Alice are so generous and welcoming, and have been so eager to share everything with us.  I had the luxury of getting to know both of them so much better these last few days, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this family.