Southern California 2012

Suz and I returned from Southern California late in April.  Once again, we had an awesome time exploring and visiting!  We stayed in Solana Beach, a small town just north of San Diego.

The first couple days we toodled around the seashore close to home.  One day we took the light rail train down to San Diego and across the ferry to Coronado Island.  Beautiful neighbourhoods with every house very  different from each other but sharing a common passion for landscaping.  Oh to be a gardener in that climate!  We biked around for the day exploring the beaches and were treated to dozens of sailboats flying up and down the strait.  The harbour is a fascinating place filled with navy battleships (the famous Midway aircraft carrier is there) fishing boats, cruise ships, and many historical ships such as the Star of India pictured below which was the boat used for “Master and Commander.”

Again this year we made a trip out to the desert, this time via the wine country of Temecula.  The wineries are all very close together so it’s easy to drive in to a few along the way.  Each one has tasting galleries where for a small amount of money a wine expert will walk you through a tasting.  I don’t know much about wine but having an expert passionate about what they do walk you through their wares is always a treat for me.  The tastings are very social places as you may imagine.  Interesting conversations with fellow meanderers and locals peppered the experience.  I found it odd to catch myself remarking that “I prefered the blend over the Cabsav as well.”  Sometimes it’s hard to take myself seriously!

One winery we visited had a lovely cafe set among their grapes.  We were constantly reminded how big food portions are in America.  Above, Suz is about to dig into some California cuisine at a roadside winery.

The desert was not as blooming as last year with very few cactus in bloom at all.  After much roaming around, I could only find one bloom in the historical Box Canyon, the overland route to Yuma.

We stayed the night in Borrego Springs, an oasis in the desert.  There was something very surreal about the place.  Sand, rock and desolation and suddenly being  surrounded by palms and flowers with the sun lighting the hills aflame.  Being off-season, the town was mostly deserted and consequently we got an obscenely good deal at a spa/resort.  As desert travelers are often thirsty, we meandered to the lounge.  The lounge was very nice and seemingly untouched since 1968 which made the scene even more odd.  The atmosphere seemed like you were transported into a 60’s spy movie.  The uniformed, older and  talkative bartender told a few yarns while we had a bite to eat.  It reminded me a bit of The Shining only the whole place had a wholesome inviting vibe.

Above: The view from the outdoor lounge of the Borrego Springs Resort and Spa.  A wonderful place to have a drink and watch the sun set on the desert mountains.  One of the staff alerted us to an astronomy event happening that night.  The dry desert air and remote location is very conducive to sky watching.  We were told to go behind the tennis courts after dark and there were some astronomy experts with some powerful telescopes.

Very fortuitous as I had been thinking about the stars after passing by Palomar Observatory on the way here.  After dark the hotel turned off all its lights and there were practically no lights on in the small town anyway.  Two guys had some huge telescopes set up and were giving tours to the dozen guests consisting of a half dozen retired couples and Suz and I.  The two experts had super powerful laser pointers that allowed them to point directly at individual stars as they talked.  Through the telescopes we saw Saturn’s rings, Mars, Venus and some Nebulae as well as some new stars being birthed in Orion.  A wonderful surprise.

The next day we drove out to the Salton Sea mostly to indulge my curiosity.  The Salton Sea is a landlocked saline lake in the desert that at one time was going to be a huge resort  but something went wrong and it never took off and money poured into Palm Springs instead.  The sea itself is beautiful in an eerie Red Sea way that doesn’t seem quite right.

Even more odd is the gridded roads, power lines, street signs and not a single house to be found!  It was like driving around in a twilight zone movie or a nuclear holocaust scene.  In fact the place reminded me of how I imagine parts of the old Soviet Union must be like.  Below is an attempt to capture the scene.  If you look carefully, you can see the other street signs in the distance.

Above:  Grand vistas like these abound with little to no signage and not a soul about for miles and miles.  We would never have found this place but for a photographer we met at the aforementioned Borrego Spa lounge who had been coming out here for years to take sunset pictures.

After the desert, it was great to get back to the coast.

This year, we graduated from our super huge learners surf board to  normal sized boards. The first day neither of us caught a single wave!  The swell was disorganized which made the waves difficult for sure but the smaller boards were much more demanding.  By the second day though, I was starting to figure out the advantages of the small board.  I was really starting to like the short board as I could adjust my weight front to back very quickly which allowed me to get “falling” down the wave face better to get enough speed to pop up and ride.  Weight too far forward and the nose dips in and 2 tonnes of water crash on top of you.  Too far back and the wave passes right through you.  My big obstacle is still picking the right wave which is an art form that locals tell me takes a long time so don’t get discouraged.  On one afternoon, I was about to pop up (quickly going from prone and paddling to standing and riding) when a second, bigger and faster wave overtook the one I was on and popped me in the air like a cork!  I flew forward and the board came crashing down on my head along with a few tonnes of water!  I made my way to shore  a little dazed and had a time-out on the beach.  The swells break around 30km/hr which is pretty fast for all that mass.  It is still pretty terrifying when you feel the wave come behind you and slam you forward. But it’s exhilarating. It’s like skiing on a mountain thats moving really fast!

Above: A typical wave in front of our place being surfed by an experienced local.

Once again Southern California was fantastic.  I really love this place.  We had a great visit with my parents who spend a month down there as well as my Aunt and Uncle who live there half the year.  Also by coincidence, Suz’s Aunt and Uncle were in Carlsbad so we nipped up the coast and had a great visit with them as well.  Fresh seafood and lots of Mexican inspired food filled our bellies.  Our bartender at the post-surf bar we frequented said there was skiing just 2 hours away.  Hmm, almost perfect!

More pictures at my picassa gallery here

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