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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Blocking the Writer


Some days, I have more ideas in my head than I have time to write. Today is not one of those days. Writer's block is no fun when you've dedicated to writing a new story or two each week. 

So what do I write about? How about not being able to?

It's Wednesday, so I'd usually have one of our in-between stories...travel tips, adventures close to home, or other non-travelogue features that fit in the middle of a travel story.

Maybe I can do an a accessible attractions story but by now I don't have time to go through my notes, pictures, and research to come up with one (yes, it takes me more than a few minutes to whip one of those up). Same with a transit report.

Travel tip? Don't become a travel blogger.  Kidding...it's great, when you can think of something to write.

So this will be my adventure, close to home, of not being able to come up with anything new today.

What could I talk about? We have a ho-hum day trip up the coast the other day. Maybe I'll write about that but it wasn't the most dynamic day out we've had at The World on Wheels. It'll take a lot more digging to get some nuggets out of that one.  Maybe in the near future.



How our favorite baseball team is imploding and not making us want to go to a game? Maybe on Tim's Sports Blog...not here, not today.



I go for a walk every day.  Maybe I can get something out of that.  There, here's a picture from a recent walk in downtown Los Angeles but I'll have to spend more time to get a whole story out of that.

Nope, I just don't have a story in me today...you'll just have to do with this.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 27, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP: Anza Borrego/Julian, California - 2009

UpTake Travel Gem

Borregos Against the Setting Sun

While Tim and I are writing, editing, and polishing up our newest report, let's revisit the beautiful and remote Anza Borrego State Park with side trips to Julian and the Salton Sea...


Two to three hours outside of Los Angeles, depending on your route, is the desert of Anza Borrego. We opt for the northern route of driving by Palm Springs, turning south at the Salton Sea, and then back west into Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the town of Borrego Springs.

Watch the Video (Part 1)!

We drive over to the unique underground visitor’s center, but find that it is closed. We arrive on a Wednesday but it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. I suppose the state’s massive budget cuts might have something to do with that. The accessible restrooms are open, though, and are welcome after the long drive.



We shoot a little video around the re-created oasis in front of the center with its pond full of endangered desert pupfish, which look like overweight minnows. I’d like to take Tim to one of the many natural oases in the park, but none are accessible by road unless you have a high-clearance four wheel drive vehicle and those that are hikable do not have wheelchair accessible trails. The man-made one will have to do.

It’s lunch time so we have some pizza at Calico Pizza, located in the small shopping mall in the heart of Borrego Springs before heading over to our room at Borrego Springs Resort.


Watch the Video (part 2)!


About six years ago, we had stayed here before and ended up on the resort’s mailing list. I decided to take advantage of one of those many deals sent over and ended up with a sunrise view two-room suite. Minimally accessible, it is step-free and has a tub that can be managed with a bath chair. The resort also has roll-in showers and ADA compliant rooms, but no suites. We were offered a switch to a more accessible room, but we wanted a suite and it worked for us.

The suite consists of a large living room, with a queen size sofa bed; a patio with a table and two chairs; a small efficiency with a sink, microwave, coffee maker, and refrigerator (the suites also used to have a two-burner stove but those have been removed although the vent hood is still in place); a good size bathroom; and a bedroom with king-size bed, his and her closets, and bathrobes. There are also two large LCD TVs, one in each room. Tim has especially good things to say about the large channel selection, including many HD channels.

The rate was $90 per night (rack rate is $230) plus tax, for a total of $300 and change.

After unpacking, it’s dinner time. The sun has gone down, and the area is pretty much pitch-black. It’s because of this lack of light that the area is an astronomer’s delight. Just off of the towns one concession to traffic management…a traffic circle name Christmas Circle…stands the little French Corner bistro and antique shop.

The owner, Yves, welcomes us and seats us at a nice table inside. Yves is from Nimes, one of my favorite towns in France, and we chat about the area’s Roman ruins. The house wine is a pinot noir from that region, and is only $10 for a half-liter, so we get that and start with a delicious broccoli and bleu cheese soup. Dinner would be steak frittes for Time, flammande carbonade (a Flemish beef stew) for me, and a seafood crepe dish for my wife. The food was good, but not exceptional like you would expect from a French restaurant. If I were to recommend someone to go here, I’d say get the wine, the soup de jour, and a sweet crepe for dessert. If you want more, maybe their quiche of the day, which looked quite good.

After bedding down for the night, we discover one slightly bizarre aspect of our room. The comforter on our bed…down-filled…is a good 6 inches thick and around 40 pounds! It’s like sleeping under a weight. I kick it off and use a sheet, I don’t know why such a thick blanket needs to be used in the desert. Alaska maybe; Borrego Springs, no.



In the morning, it’s a 28 mile drive up the mountains to Julian, a former mining and current apple farming town. We head to the Julian CafĂ©, which comes highly recommended, only to find out it is not wheelchair accessible. In fact, along Julian’s Main Street, most of the buildings on the north side of the street lack basic accessibility (the buildings date back over 100 years), but on the south side, it is much more accommodating.

Instead, we eat at the Julian Coffee House across the street and down the block. Breakfast is good. I share a bagel, egg and sausage sandwich with Tim and an order of pancakes with my wife. Afterward, we head to the Birdwatcher, Julian’s rather large birder supply store because my wife is a big bird watcher. While she browses inside, Tim and I sit on the bench outside and watch all the birds come to the store’s feeders. We see an Anna’s hummingbird, Mountain bluebirds, Lesser goldfinches, and many ravens and sparrows.

Next, it is over to the Julian Cider Mill across the way to watch fresh apples ground into cider and have a few samples. Then shopping at the various knick knack stores and, when we reach the end of the street, see the hundreds of cats rounded up for a spay and neuter clinic taking place at the town hall that day.

Before leaving, we head to Mom’s pie shop…one of Julian’s many pie bakeries…to have a slice of pumpkin and another of bumbleberry pie.


Back in Borrego, we do some shopping before spending a couple of hours relaxing at the hotel. Dinner is at a local institution, Carlee’s, more a bar than restaurant. It’s a friendly little watering hole with some very good food. Tim and I love the burgers at Carlee’s, so we get two Borrego Burgers (bacon cheeseburgers) accompanied by their outstanding beer-battered fries while my wife gets an equally good pasta primavera. Here is where you find the friendly locals, waiting for Karaoke to begin while dining and drinking. Even though it’s mostly a bar, kids are welcome at Carlee’s.



That night, we drive to a secluded spot by the hotel to stargaze. When we turn off the headlights, it is completely dark. Kind of unsettling, being out in the middle of nowhere, unable to see the hand in front of your face; but the stars in the sky are brilliant here. With no moon in the sky, the view is unfettered. Jupiter is bright; satellites and meteors streak across the heavens.



In the morning we lounge around the room before heading into town. There’s a farmers market going on in Christmas Circle…which doubles as the town plaza and park…where we pick up some fruit and a euphorbia bush to take home. Dinner was so good at Carlee’s that we decide to have lunch there today, opting for French dips with their homemade potato chips.


At the Salton Sea

After lunch we head to the Salton Sea and the Salton Sea Beach Marina. This area is depressing, fascinating, exhilarating, and…at times…beautiful. It’s obvious that this one-time resort area has seen much better days. Ruins of dream homes dot the shore, the marina businesses are barely hanging on, and the earth is sun-scorched here. At the same time, new construction of homes in the area suggest the dream hasn’t completely died and the sea…a man-made mistake of epic proportions…attracts millions of migratory birds.



We drive right to the edge of the water and spot egrets, great blue herons, stilts, gulls, and a lone osprey watching it all while contemplating his next meal.

Leaving town, we stop at the Torres Martinez travel center on highway 86 on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation. Along with cheap gas, a small casino invites us in to play penny slots. Tim plays for an hour on the two dollars he put in his machine. His mom and I are not far behind as we imbibe on the two dollar margaritas and pina coladas brought out by the servers.

That night, we enjoy some drinks at the hotel’s bar before eating an outstanding prime rib dinner in the Arches restaurant, located on-site. Being Friday, it’s the day’s special at only $10.95 for the dinner.

After checking out, we are heading home but want to stop in Coachella for a taco place that we’d been to years ago and enjoyed quite a bit. The Jalisco taqueria is not at all as good as I remember, but around the corner we stumble upon the Coachella Valley Fiesta de Chilies. Yes, I know the spelling is not correct, but that’s the way it was.

A nice little community festival was set up in the park behind city hall, with food booths (I wish I’d know about this before the tacos), beer garden, rides for the kids, and live entertainment on the stage. The star attraction was the chili cookoff. Eight booths we setup by local restaurants, police & fire departments, and individual cooks. Five dollars got you a bowl, a spoon, napkins, and 10 tickets. Each ticket was good for a sample at one of the booths. With eight, the remaining two were for your favorites. Whoever collected the most tickets wins the people’s choice award. There was also a panel of judges tasting for their own reward.


The Police Department's Chili Booth

While almost all of the chilis were good (the one sponsored by a local Indian casino was mediocre), the three of us thought that the police department’s chili was best, followed by a mild turkey base chili, and a pork based chili prepared by a local barbecue joint.

And with that, the trip ended as we drove the rest of the way home.




Darryl
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Flora and Fauna of Borrego Springs


Still haven't seen the namesake animal of the area, the Borrego (big horn sheep), but we did see plenty of great flowers and birds during our recent trip to Anza-Borrego State Park.

We couldn't fit everything in our trip reports (part one; part two) but we wanted to revisit some of the great floral and avian life that we found there.

Starting with those purple flowers at the top of the post.


Prickly pear cactus not only have spectacular flower but the fruit is delicious, too.



The ocotillo cactus has bright orange flowers.



This wren was tending to it's family in a nest perched in a palo verde tree outside of our hotel room.



Quail were pretty easy to find on our afternoon walk.



The cholla cactus has some spiffy neon green flowers.



Migratory ducks spend time here, also.



They're not weeds here, desert dandelions sprinkle the sands...



...and fields of desert sunflowers also carpet the valley's floor.



Finally, not really a desert wildflower, but it was daffodil season up in nearby Julian.  Here's a show in the town's community center.





Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Additional photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2015 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eco Friendy Travel Tips for Earth Day


We love to travel and you probably do, too, or otherwise why would you be here?  It broadens the mind, breaks down prejudices and bigotry, and promotes learning about other cultures. Besides, it's a lot of fun.

It does take a bit of mechanical energy and carbon releasing to get to our destinations, however, so it's a good idea to incorporate some environmentally friendly habits to help mitigate that along the way.


Fly direct when possible - Take offs are the biggest fuel burners in airplanes. With today's airline schedules, it's harder to secure that nonstop flight but take one if you can. It's also a lot easier on you if you don't have to change planes, especially if you're a wheelchair traveler.

Travel close to home - Great treasures lie within 500 miles of just about everybody.  Take some time to enjoy them and burn less fuel than you would on that overseas journey. Plus, when you take your car, you don't have to pack quite as light as you do on a plane...and you don't have to go through the TSA grope to get in the passenger seat.


Recycle those towels - Hang up your shower towel to dry after your shower if it's not too grungy. A lot of hotels these days will only change what you leave on the floor. Save some water and energy.

Live in a destination - Instead of seeing 8 European capitals in 7 days, try living in the South of France for a week or rent an apartment in New York...become a temporary resident. It's what we try to do and makes for our best vacations when we get to know the neighbors and the city.


Go off the beaten track - We've all seen those destinations called paradise that end up being miles of endless hotel towers. Find a nice place where the tourists aren't flocking too and don't contribute to the 'let's build another hotel' mentality.


Use public transportation - Much friendlier on the environment that renting a car or taking a taxi. Plus, you get the added benefit of seeing the locals behaving like locals do and will save a lot of money.


Walk - Many cities and towns are more inviting when you see them on foot.

Eat fewer meals - In addition to helping to eliminate indigestion, it keeps you more energetic and helps your stamina for all that siteseeing you're doing. We eat one good meal in the morning and a nice dinner while skipping lunch. It saves us money, keeps us going, gives us more time, and we don't miss that midday meal at all.


Eat local - Eat the local cuisine when you can. Skip the imported food, made to give you the same option you can get at home, and try what the local farmers make. It's different and delicious.

Turn off your A/C and electronics - Why cool an empty house? Turn off and unplug things like TVs and chargers but leave a radio and some lights on to make the house look like it's inhabited (no need to give up security to be a little more green).



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved




Monday, April 20, 2015

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 2


Morning in Borrego Springs finds us on a modest shopping excursion. While Letty browses the Frugal Coyote thrift shop, Tim and I wander around a small strip mall where we end up in the town's ice cream parlor and candy store.

A couple of cinnamon rolls to go, we wander over to the liquor store to grab a six-pack and some snacks for later tonight in the hotel.


Watch the Video!




At the end of the town's modest downtown is Christmas Circle. Basically a large roundabout with the town's main park in the middle. 

Off to the side, the local Kiwanis Club is having a flea market.  While Letty sees if she can find any bargains, I wander off to a large, blooming, palo verde tree nearby.

It's buzzy. That's because there are hundreds of bees tending to the thousands of flowers. I stick a video camera in to get a close up (see the video for more) then we hit the road.

While we were shopping, we stopped at the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor's Center and gift shop at the local mall where the friendly staffer showed us where to go where the most flowers were blooming today.



A few miles out of town, we find the desert sands carpeted with desert sunflowers (that's what the lady called them).



A little closer to the mountains we find this cacti blooming with bright purple flowers...



...these with neon green flowers...



...and ocotillos with their bright orange flowers.

Another big attraction in Borrego Springs is finding sculptures out in the middle of the desert.  Artist Ricardo Breceda got together with one of the area's big landowners, Dennis Avery, and make iron sculpture just waiting out in the desert for the explorer to find.

Dozens of Breceda's statues are sprinkled over miles of desert landscape and are a blast to go out and find.  (maps are available in the gift shop and most hotels)



We find a few new ones that weren't here on our last visit, including this padre and his dog.



The morning finds us driving 30 miles up into the mountains to visit Julian, an old gold mining town more famous today for it's apple orchards and pie.



We have a breakfast of soup, quiche, and pie before exploring the town and shopping.

After walking to the cemetery and finding the old jail, we call it a day and pile into the van for the long drive home.





Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 17, 2015

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 1


It maybe located between some of the most populated areas in the United States but the roads to get into it are so tough that this remains an oasis of old, undeveloped Southern California. Being that a great majority of it is also a protected state park might also have something to do with that.

It's been six years but we're returning to Borrego Springs, the little village located in the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.


Watch the Video!

From our area, there's no easy way to get here. It's either going through the backroads of San Diego County or going through Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and then a very poorly maintained road for the last 25 miles, which is the way we came in.

Once in, however, you take a step back fifty years to a California desert resort the way is used to be. A sleepy little downtown, yet even the most modest motel has a sparkling pool. Eccentric characters that gather at the town's lone watering hole each night. Spectacular golf courses, tennis courts, quirky art, and some beautiful and very unspoiled desert.



As always in Borrego Springs, our lodgings are the Borrego Springs Resort, about a mile south of the town's traffic circle (traffic signals are outlawed here...mayors must take an oath of office that includes never bringing one of those devices into the town).

It's a large, two-room suite with a patio looking west toward the large mountains separating the desert from the Indian lands dotting eastern San Diego County with their casinos and missions.


After the long and a bit grueling drive, we're just in relaxing mode for today. A Mercedes Benz owner's group is here having a meeting and rally. We admire the Mercs but are more impressed by the old Packards that are in with the group.

We head over to the bar at Arches, the resort's restaurant, to have a couple of drinks before heading out to take a walk through the golf course.



While here, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for us this weekend...migratory birds relaxing on the greens while the car owners golf through the course in one big group of about twenty golfers. Cacti blooming in spectacular purples, oranges, and pinks.

Back in town, we head to Carlee's, the dive bar that serves the tastiest food around, to have a bite to eat and to chat with the evening's entertainment. The singer shows Tim the difference between a 12 string and a 6 string guitar.  Later, while leaving, we get an impromtu performance of 'Ring of Fire' in the parking lot while they take a smoke break.



We head back to the room where my wife and I star gaze from the patio while Tim relaxes with ESPN on the couch.

Tonight, it's rest. Tomorrow, we head out to the desert to explore.

We'll continue with you then.





Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Tamale Peddler


The other day, we were in a waiting room for a doctor's appointment for Tim. A Mexican man came in and talked to the receptionist.  My wife looked over to me and whispered, conspiratorially, "He's selling tamales..."

Tamales are one of those wonderful Hispanic foods. It seems every Latin American country has their own version...Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Guatemalan, and on and on. Some are wrapped in banana leaves and many different varieties of fillings are used.

I'm a Mexican style fan, with the corn meal masa cuddling a meaty filling of pork or beef (preferrably pork), chicken, green chile and cheese...even pineapple and raisins. This is wrapped in corn husks while many are additionally encompassed in paper then steamed.

Here in Southern California, you can get them almost anywhere. Every Mexican restaurant sells them, you can get them in many supermarkets...ready made or available to take home and steam. They even sell canned tamales.



Some are good, most Mexican restaurants can at least make a passable tamale and a few excel at them. Some are not good at all...see the canned tamales above. If you see a tube of tamales labeled in letters coded to say it's "excellente," keep walking. 

The best, however, are made by little teams of underground entrepreneurs. Getting together at someone's house and assembling these treats of soft, moist, filled masa, they gather up piles and piles of the delicious little packets and roam out looking for a sale.



Sometimes at work, you'll find someone who's mom makes them and you can send an order in.  We'll exit our church after mass and, once in awhile, there'll be a couple of ladies with a bucket for sale or, as it was today, someone will go office to office delivering a delicious and cheap lunch.

Yes, my friends, it's also cheap. While I've had mediocre tamales at farmers market costing $6.50 a piece, good ones at our favorite Mexican restaurant and cantina for $3.75...it's these home-made beauties that are the best, tastiest you can find and they're usually dirt cheap. 

Back at the doctor's waiting room, after my wife asks what varieties he has, I ask how much. $1.50 each or $17 a dozen.




I get 6 red pork and 6 chile and cheese tamales, conveniently wrapped in a plastic bag, slip him $17, and put the haul in the car for later.

With an afterglow of delicious tamale dinner memories in my tummy (the tamales we bought are pictured at the top of this post), I write these words to you after our latest adventure. As good as it gets.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved