Summer 2021 Tour: San Diego, California, Episode 1

It was Wednesday, June 2, 2021, and time to roll down the road to see how far we could go. California planned to remove most pandemic restrictions on June 15, allowing most businesses to open at full capacity and vaccinated persons to remove masks in most situations. We had our eye on New Mexico even though the state had not yet announced changes to their COVID restrictions. A week or so in San Diego would be sufficient time to see how the situation progressed, and we could visit with our son Kevin and his better half Bailey.

We made a stop at Castaic Lake RV near Magic Mountain for the night and arrived at Chula Vista RV Resort the next day. On June 4 we went to check out the fitness center, vowing to keep our fitness routines intact while on the road.

I was pleased to meet the yoga teacher who asked if we were attending the class. “Well, I wasn’t, but I will now,” I said. “Let me get my mat.” For the next week and a half, except weekends, it felt like I had a personal yogi teaching me new poses and critiquing my form since I was the only person who showed up.

Why had we not found Chula Vista RV Resort sooner?

Chula Vista RV Park was definitely a step up from the RV park in La Mesa where we usually stayed while in San Diego County. Staying in La Mesa may be more convenient, but the rumble of semis at all hours of the day and night was always a nightmare. Had we found a quieter place to stay for future trips? Not so fast. Read on.

What will happen to the beautiful palm trees and other vegetation?

Chula Vista (Beautiful View)

Chula Vista is the second largest city in San Diego County with a population of 268,000. The city’s 52 square miles is composed of a variety of coastal landscape, canyons, rolling hills, and mountains. We were disappointed to learn Chula Vista RV Park would soon close since it was in the way of the 535-acre Bayfront Project. The new project will eventually include residential options, a hotel, and conference center. Another RV Park, Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay, recently opened near the Sweetwater Marsh to take its place.

Chula Vista’s vibrant historic downtown on Third Avenue between H and E streets invited us to park the car, stroll through the Chula Vista Memorial Bowl and Park, and continue on the street past restaurants serving Mexican, Italian, Asian and American fare. Other businesses and shops include jewelers, clothing and accessories, gifts, salons, spas, and others.

We saw several of these on the sidewalk. A bike rack, perhaps?

We parked near the 3.8-acre Memorial Park where there is lush green grass, lots of trees, an amphitheater, swimming pool, play equipment, and gymnasium.

No water in the creek during our visit
Clumps of flowers dotted the grassy area
The amphitheater sets the stage
Jacaranda trees were in full bloom
Welcome to Third Avenue in Downtown Chula Vista
Culichi Town coming soon to compete with the plethora of other Mexican restaurants in Chula Vista
Buildings on Fourth Avenue

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and Living Coast Discovery Center

Kevin and Bailey thought they’d seen it all in San Diego County until we found a new place for them to explore. We arrived about an hour after the Living Coast Discovery Center opened and boarded the shuttle that took us to the center. There we found an aquarium with an assortment of sea creatures, aviaries with birds of prey and other birds, a composting display, and various trees and plants. For those who find the San Diego Zoo too large or expensive, they should consider the Discovery Center. The views of Sweetwater Marsh could not be beat, so we ventured along the native pollinator garden and the trail leading out to the bay. My favorite part was the giant sea turtle at the front of the center.

Touchdown Turtles
Sea Creatures Sculpture at the center’s entrance
Cans, plastic bottles, and other trash fill the turtle’s shell
Octopus through the looking glass
Compost demonstration and garden center
Yes, take my photo, please
Can’t you see I’m trying to sleep here? Go away.

Bailey and I took turns taking our group photos at the entrance to the Native Pollinator Garden. It would have been difficult to get the arch in a selfie. The garden had an excellent display of different plants and shrubs, and they were all abuzz with bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Bailey, Jon, and Kevin
Linda, Jon, and Kevin
Even cholla make tasty blooms for pollinators

Along the trail leading to the bay, we saw several cement pads that are the ruins of the Hercules Powder Company. The company was the largest of 11 kelp-producing plants in 1916 along the Southern California coast. The company processed the kelp, combined it with other ingredients, and produced gunpowder. They ended production after World War I. I wonder who had the idea to create gunpowder from kelp.

Giant kelp was a major ingredient in the production of gunpowder during the early 1900s at this site.
Ice plant sparkles in sunlight while showing off its blooms
Sweetwater Marsh, ship to the right, Coronado Bridge, and San Diego skyline

Minus the buildings and trees on the horizon, the marshland is what must have greeted Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo from Spain in September 1542 when he arrived in San Diego Bay aboard the San Salvador.

View of Sweetwater Marsh toward Chula Vista

Other things visitors might do and see in Chula Vista:

  • Swim, splash, and slide at Aquatica San Diego in Chula Vista
  • Have a picnic at Chula Vista Bayside Park
  • Attend a concert at North Island Credit Union Amphitheater
  • Take a tour at South Bay Salt Works

Upcoming episodes include a hike in Torrey Pines, a quick visit to Imperial Beach, a walk from Liberty Station in Shelter Island to Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, and a trip to Valley de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico.

Safe Travels and Stay Safe

Updated: July 8, 2021, to remove photo that was not in Chula Vista

A Week in Angels Camp Episode 6: Another New Melones Lake Hike, Mark Twain Cabin, Angels Camp Historic District

On April 17, 2021, our last full day in Angels Camp, called for another hike at New Melones Lake, a visit to downtown Angel’s Camp, and a peek at the Mark Twain Cabin.

Another New Melones Lake HikeA

We started our hike at the Tower Climb Trail, except instead of climbing we descended toward the lake, enjoying the shade from the oak, sycamore, and other trees. Yellow, lavender, and pink wildflowers joined the winter vetch in showing off their blooms.

Yellow Wildflower
Lavendar Wildflower
Pink Wildflower
Violet Wildflower
Winter Vetch
Wild Blackberry Bush

The trail continued onto the Carson Creek Trail that follows the outline of the lake in a W formation, providing us with more views of the lake.

Trail along Carson Creek
New Melones Lake View
Another New Melones Lake View

Our final transition was on Fire Access Road and here is where we needed to climb back up to where we parked, stopping in shaded sections to catch our breath.

Mark Twain Cabin, Historic Landmark No. 138

We had trouble finding the cabin at first. There were two stone bases and plaques on the side of the road as we headed south. One plaque stated the location of the cabin was only a mile ahead and the other one stated it was a ½ mile. Yet we didn’t see any cabin. It wasn’t until we came from the other direction that we realized we had to take a road off Highway 49 to get to Jackass Hill Road and the cabin.

Mark Twain Cabin

Although the cabin is a replica, it contains the original chimney and fireplace. While hiding out for 88 days as a guest of the Gillis brothers, Samuel Clemens gathered material for his famous short story “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and semi-autobiographical book Roughing It. I’ve heard many writers say they get their best material from exploring new locations and meeting new people. I need to read these stories again to see how Twain worked in the colorful characters he met while in Angels Camp and the surrounding area.

Robinson’s Ferry State Registered Landmark No. 276

On the way back from Mark Twain’s Cabin, we stopped at an overlook for another view of the lake. A plaque commemorates the ferry transport John W. Robinson and Stephen Mead established in 1848 for freight, animals and persons across the river. They charged 50 cents for each passenger, horse, jenny or other animal. In 1856 Harvey Wood purchased interest in the ferry and then property nearby, which was maintained by the Wood family until 1911.

Robinson Ferry Overlook

Also at the overlook is another plaque in honor of “Mr. Mother Lode” Archie D. Stevenot who was the founder of the Mother Lode Association in 1919. The Mother Lode created California’s first highway association. In 1976, the plaque mentions 100-year capsules placed on July 23, 1976 by Golden Chain Council of the Mother Lode and Grand Council of E Clampus Vitus. I’d sure like to look inside those capsules. Since I’m not likely to live until 2076, I’ll have to use my imagination to figure out what they have placed in them.

Angels Camp Historic District

Our last stop of the week was Angels Camp Historic District. Famished from our hike and search of the Mark Twain Cabin, we selected Cascabel Restaurant for a Mexican lunch. Our meals had a distinct flavor from other Mexican restaurants where we’ve eaten, but definitely enjoyable.

This town is filled with Mark Twain and “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” references. They sure are proud of their association with the author. Like the stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one cannot miss the plagues embedded in the sidewalk that announce the Angels Camp’s Walk of Frog Competition Winners throughout the years.

1955 Winner Thunderbolt
Modern Day Jumping Frog

As if we hadn’t walked enough already, we cruised up and down the main street, which is part of Highway 49. We noted how much narrower the road was and had driven several times the part that pinches down and runs through a residential area where houses stood right at the street edge.

Yikes! Our rig barely fit down this street

Here’s a sampling of the buildings along Main Street in Angels Camp.

Other activities in and near Angels Camp:

  • Download a walking and auto tour pamphlet from gocalaveras.com.
  • Take the walking and/or the auto tour
  • Visit Angels Camp Museum and Carriage House
  • Go spelunking at California Caverns
  • Wine taste at Prospect 2 Wine Company
  • Have a picnic at Utica Park
  • Hit a little white ball around a golf course
  • And much more

The next day, we headed home to unpack, clean up, and relax after our whirlwind week at Angels Camp exploring Highway 49. Stay tuned for our next adventure, a return to San Diego, Chula Vista to be exact.

Safe Travels

A Week in Angels Camp Episode 5: Calaveras Big Trees State Park

On April 16, 2021, we drove to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to see the giant sequoias. These redwoods are 2,000 to 3,000 years old and considered the largest trees in the world.

Snow bank under trees at edge of parking lot
There’s still a bit of snow in them thar hills.

The first thing we noted as we pulled into the parking lot were the piles of snow here and there. During a normal precipitation year, I would expect lots of snow at Big Trees in mid-April. Although rain reached less than 40% of normal in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least the Sierra Mountains collected a bit of snow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep the entire State of California out of a drought. Again.

Carving of a bear and her cub
Outside the Jack Knight Hall, which is available to rent for meetings, celebrations, weddings, and other events.

Visitors have two groves of giant sequoias to explore in Big Trees. The North Grove, at the visitor’s center, became a state park in 1931, and the state added South Grove in 1954. The five-mile South Grove trail travels along Big Trees Creek and passes by the Agassiz Tree and Palace Hotel Tree, the two largest trees in the park.

Giant sequoia tree
It’s hard to capture the entire sequoia in one shot

We selected the 1.5-mile self-guided trail in the North Grove to get up close and intimate with these magnificent specimens. For an immersive exploration, be sure to grab a trail guide for a $0.50 donation. Then watch for the markers along the trail. The numbered markers match up to the guide, which provides information about the sites.

Crown of a sequoia tree
Clusters of large branches form the crown of the sequoias. This tree is between 800 and 3,000 years old. Sometimes lightening strikes the tops and then the tree grows another crown.

The trail wound through the forest populated with sugar pines, white fir, incense cedar, and ponderosa pines, along with the Sequoias. Sadly, we were a few weeks early to catch the blooming dogwoods, one of my favorite tree flowers.

We had the right idea when we opted for the 1.5-mile trail over the 5-mile hike at South Grove. The 4,700-foot altitude was enough to steal our breaths, making it difficult to read after walking the few steps between markers on the mostly flat surface.

Although the root system of a giant sequoia is shallow—only six to eight feet underground—compared to its height, roots spread out up to an acre in diameter to provide the support these trees need to reach their height of 164–279 ft (50–85 m). So important to their survival, seedlings first develop a strong root system before expending energy to development above ground.

Root of a sequoia tree
Decomposing root from a fallen tree

The trees below are named the Siamese Twins. They grew so close together, their trunks merged for the first 50 feet, making them look like one tree that branched off into two.

Two sequoias merged at 50 feet above ground
Siamese Twins

The Father of the Forest fell way before 1850 when explorers made their discovery known. The slow process of decomposition continues, providing nutrients for mosses, shrubs, and dogwoods to grow.

Remnants of a fallen sequoia tree

A fire from an earlier time hollowed out the log.

Fallen sequoia tree log
Jon stands at the end of the log on the right-side of the trail
Inside a hollowed out fallen sequoia tree
Looking through the hollowed-out trunk toward the trail break

Early photographers took advantage of the specimen as a brass band, and then a cavalry troop, posed for photos on top of the trunk as did many other people visiting before and after the property became a park.

Old photo of people posing next to Father of the Forest sequoia tree
Woman on horseback, man on ladder and another man standing next to Father of the Forest

The gnarly lump at the foot of the tree below is a burl, which forms when the tree experiences an injury or disease. Injured by fire, the burl grew around the burn scar.

Burl growth on a sequoia
A burl growth on a sequoia
Bark growing over a fire scar
Bark grows around this fire scar to protect the tree from further damage.

Want to feel insignificant? Stand next to one of these trees.

Woman standing at foot of sequoia tree
Like an ant standing next to a rubber tree plant

Now think about the hundreds and thousands of years the tree has grown in that spot, how many fires have raged through the forest, how many unthinking people tried to destroy the trees. Then think about the hundreds and thousands of years it will continue to expand in girth and height after you no longer walk the earth.

Man standing next to a fallen tree
Jon stands next to a fallen tree

Unthinking humans out to make a buck thought it was a good idea to strip The Mother of the Forest of her bark. They stripped it off in eight-foot sections, shipped it east and displayed the reassembled bark at exhibitions in New York City and London. Their senseless act deprived the tree of its natural fire retardant to ward off fire damage and set off a firestorm of protest and an awareness of the need to save the trees.

Burned sequoia after bark removed
Mother of the Forest skinned alive

Skinning this tree alive is as sensible a scheme as skinning

our great men would be to prove their greatness.

—John Muir

There are other more challenging hikes that take off from the visitor’s center. Taking the Grove Overlook Trail can add 1.6 miles to the North Grove Trail. And the River Canyon Trail leads hikers on a 6.7-mile strenuous out and back trek.

Next up: We wrap up our visit to Angels Camp with another hike at New Melones Lake, a walk through the City of Angels Camp historic district, and a visit to the cabin where Mark Twain stayed while visiting the area.

Safe Travels

A Week in Angels Camp Episode 4: Angels Creek Trail and the City of Sutter Creek

The stress from the blown tire while driving to Angels Camp on Sunday and the back-and-forth Jackson drives and explorations on Monday and Tuesday told us we needed a break. So, instead of packing in a full day, we opted for another hike at New Melones Lake and a relaxing afternoon at the trailer.

Angels Creek Trail

The Angels Creek trail was a perfect choice for our second hike in New Melones Lake recreation area. Listed as a 2.5-mile moderate trail, it was a good follow-up after the short one we took the day before.

Hiking trail through shady trees and green grass
Angels Creek Trial

We parked at the Buck Brush Day Use Area and started out on the trail that loops around a partial peninsula. We traveled through woodlands, grasslands, and a small section of wetland pond.

Manzanita tree on side of trail
Love the red bark on the manzanita

I was surprised to see manzanita trees so tall. The ones I’ve seen before were more like a bush and not much higher than my waist. With 105 species and subspecies of the plant, I guess they come in all shapes and sizes depending on the soil and other growing conditions.

Red barked manzanita tree limb against blue sky
Gnarly manzanita limb

It’s good to know that the berries and the leaves make an excellent snack in case I get hungry on a hike. According to Wikipedia, Native Americans made cider with the berries and toothbrushes with the leaves.

Blue wildflowers on slope and river below
Lupine was plentiful on the hills above the lake

Wildflowers were plentiful on this trail too. Lupine blanketed the slopes above the lake and patches of yellow flowers crossed our path.

Hiker walking between yellow wildflowers
JT walks through a yellow patch

It’s hard to comprehend the size of the lake from one or two locations since it spreads out into canyons, arms, and fingers. A map is best to visualize the lake’s size.

Blue skies, forest of trees, S-curve river
The lake snakes its way through canyons
Blue lake seen through tree branches
And spreads out through valleys
Grass and trees in the foreground, blue lake, and blue skies with puffy white clouds
Blue skies, blue lake, green grass and trees. What a perfect day.

From the trail I spied this restroom at the Angels Creek Boat Launch that was closed. It looked like it went a couple of rounds with a windstorm.

Restroom building with roof damage
Windswept roof

After our hike we drove to the Marina and Glory Hole Point Launch area. The normal boat ramp was closed since it ended well above the water surface, so boaters had to drive out on the point to launch their marine toys.

Closed boat lunch, lake, hills in background
Boat launch closed until the water rises

Sutter Creek

The next day we drove north to the City of Sutter Creek. Someone told us Sutter Creek had the best historic downtown, so we had to see for ourselves. On the way there, Jon stopped so I could take a photo of this structure nestled among the trees.

Headframe mining equipment towering over green leafed trees
Headframe above underground mine.

Visitors will find drinks and food at the tasting rooms and restaurants that line the street. And shoppers are sure to find something to take home from one of the antique, clothing, and gift stores. I did. An apron and a pair of pants had me pulling out my wallet.

Dark green two story 1800s building with white railings on top floor
Outdoor dinning in Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek started its life around 1848 as a settlement, offering food, drink, and mining equipment. Legally founded on September 4, 1854, the population grew, welcoming Americans, Europeans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Immigrants from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cornwall, England, influenced the building methods and architecture.

Man standing in front of an 1800s building waiting to cross the street
Look both ways

After the 1860s, the town became known for the local quartz-mining activities and continued to grow and prosper. Once the mines closed, the city transitioned into a tourist town, attracting visitors from San Francisco, Sacramento, and beyond.

White steeple church and rectory
Methodist Church founded 1862

Here are just a few of the many buildings in the historic downtown region. The use of native stone as a building material and iron doors contributed to the survival of many of the buildings from the 1800s. The town learned early on that stone and iron can prevent fires from taking out an entire town.

Street scene of Sutter Creek
Street Scene facing north

The Sutter Creek Auditorium was built in 1939. The conference and event venue includes a small kitchen and large stage with parking in the back.

White early 1900 building used as Sutter Creek Auditorium
Sutter Creek Auditorium
Creek running between grassy area and buildings on each side and bridge in the background
Sutter Creek runs through town next to the auditorium

A fire in 1865 destroyed the American House, built on this site in 1852, along with most of the town. When rebuilt, it opened as the American Exchange Hotel and enjoyed a long history. Today, Hotel Sutter offers twenty-one guest rooms, a restaurant, bar, and a banquet room for up to 100 people.

Beige 1800s style three story building used as Hotel Sutter with street dining under umbrellas
Hotel Sutter

The J. Monteverde building is a museum with displays of dry goods, hardware, and other products commonly available for purchase during the Gold Rush era. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit.

White general merchant building from the 1800s with pillars

Built in 1919 for silent films, the Ratto Theatre is one of four art deco theatres constructed by John Ratto in Amador County. This one is the only one that survived over the years.

Art deco theatre painted cream with gold and maroon trim

Visitors needing a comfy bed and a scrumptious meal have the Foxes Inn and the Sutter Creek Inn to choose from. Both properties were built in the 1800s and feature rooms with private baths.

Yellow 1800s style home amid flowering trees and bushes
The Foxes Inn
1800s style home with manicured green grass
Sutter Creek Inn

Here are a few things I’d like to do and see on a return trip to Sutter Creek:

  • Knight Foundry – A water-powered foundry and machine shop that operated from 1873 until the 1960s. Check the website for information on tour days and times.
  • Miner’s Bend – A park with artifacts and replicas of Sutter Creek’s gold rush history.
  • Preston Castle – Opened in 1894 as a reform school for boys, the Preston School of Industry operated until 1960. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style using bricks made in San Quentin and Folsom prisons. Check the website for information about visiting.

So do we think Sutter Creek is the best historic town in the Mother Lode? It’s definitely at the top of the list, but I’m reserving my answer until I’ve seen more. Each of them has their own personality, and I haven’t explored enough to form an opinion. I think we need a few more trips to the Gold Country to investigate towns north of Sutter Creek and south of Angel’s Camp.

On our way back to the trailer, we stopped at this water tower. The Italian Picnic Grounds was founded in 1881. They hold an annual picnic and parade in non-pandemic years. Sounds like fun. Maybe it will come back in 2022.

Italian Picnic Grounds green, white and red striped water tower on a hill with green bushes and brown grass.
Italian Picnic Grounds looked like a fun place

That’s it for now. Coming up next: Big Trees State Park

Safe Travels