Thursday, January 9, 2020

San Pasqual Battlefield

Stained glass - depicting charge by the Dragoons
One of the habits Laureen has when we travel, and I believe everyone should, is using her phone to search for any interesting sites near us when we stop. No matter where we are, there always seems to be someplace we haven’t visited, or in this case, never even knew existed.

After visiting friends in San Diego recently, we stopped in Escondido for fuel. While at the pump, Laureen delved into her habit and asked me, “Did you know that a battle was fought near us, during the Mexican-American war?”

“Nope,” I hadn’t heard of it before – sad for a guy who’s lived in Southern California most of his life. “Where?”

“Five miles east down Highway 78.”

Enough said. Fueled and ready for a new adventure.

A new adventure - count us in!
The San Pasqual Battlefield, now a State Historic Park, is located one mile east, past the entrance to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – formerly, the San Diego Wild Life Animal Park, on Highway 78.
A very informative gentleman who works at the state park, Ranger Gil, was a font of knowledge concerning the history of the San Pasqual Valley. He actually informed us that he wasn’t actually a ranger, but an aide at the park.

Gil, regaled us on every moment of the battle, but ended up with a rather poetic take on the entire war itself.

“You know, many people don’t talk about the Mexican-American War in school, and certainly not this battle. It’s a chapter in both our histories that don’t put us in any positive light. It really was a battle of greed and power, from both sides of the border. There really were no clear winners – especially here on this battlefield.”

Turns out, when walking through the museum at the state park, one could see how both sides, at least here, made many strategic mistakes and lives were lost. The Californios had made enemies of the local natives, the Kumeyaay (also known as the Ipai), who then sided with the Americans, giving them aide and assistance when needed. And the Americans believed they could easily overcome the Californios, and made many tactical mistakes – too many to discuss here.

View of the main battlefield from the Visitor's Center
“Both sides claimed victory,” Ranger Gil stated. “The Americans lost more men in the battle, but very soon after, Pico and the Californios were forced to capitulate on January 10, 1847 to the American forces. This ended the fighting in California.” 

Fascinating but truly sad, that the bloodiest military action in California, during the war between the United States and Mexico, occurred near the city of Escondido.

Turns out, in December of 1846, General Stephen W. Kearny was traveling through an area north of San Diego and east of what would become Escondido, to bring battle against a group of Californios (people of Hispanic descent, still living in California after Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain) under the command of Captain Andres Pico. On President Polk’s orders, these loyalists to Mexico needed to be removed from California at all costs.

Unfortunately, that cost was twenty-two American soldiers of the First Dragoons and a half dozen of the Californios. The weather was damp, so the powder to fire muskets was wet and wouldn’t fire, leaving Kearny’s men to fight hand to hand combat with the Californios. The American soldiers stood no chance, with only swords and non-functioning muskets, as the Californios were armed with long lances which could kill an enemy yards away in battle, as well as lariats which could easily capture or make an enemy combatant ineffective.

As we looked out the large glass windows, which allowed visitors a panoramic view of the battlefield. It was hard to digest how death came so easily in such a beautiful valley. It had. And, though we could read the informative descriptions about the battle and reasons for the battle, it just didn’t make the reality any better.

Plaque commemorating the San Pasqual Battle
Less than a hundred yards from where we stood, men had fought and died during the cold and wet days of December, 154 years ago.

Plaque naming the Americans killed in action
On the way out of the museum, we said our thanks to Ranger Gil, who stopped us and told us of another location worth looking into.

“After this, it’s always nice to have something fun to visit," he stated. He was right.

Kit Carson, the famous frontier scout, had been with Kearny during the engagement, and there is the Kit Carson Park and Amphitheater, located in Escondido, right off Highway 15.  This 285 acre city park, has it all for any outdoors-person, including the only American sculpture park by the late, international artist, Niki de Saint Phalle. This garden of sculptures was Phalle’s way of depicting California’s mythic, historic and cultural roots.

Part of the garden sculptures
Unfortunately, the garden sculpture was closed when we went to view it. But, from looking through the fence – not in a creepy way – we were able to see marvelous and colorful sculptures created by a visionary mind.

It definitely requires a re-visit, to be able to walk among the huge imaginative creatures molded by Phalle.

So, when out of town, check around for places nearby worth seeing – we know there are plenty.

For further information:

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Christmas That Almost Wasn't...

And a Happy New Year!
The greeting cards have all been sent; the Christmas rush is through, and as we settle in to enjoy the holiday with our loved ones that one time of year when hopefully, all roads truly do lead us all home, we thought back how much Christmas celebrations and traditions have morphed and changed over the years. With a smile and a nod to the Carpenters, who turned Christmas into a verb with the 1978 release of what would become a Christmas classic, Merry Christmas, Darling - (I'm Christmasing with you....) let's journey back to a time when Christmas almost wasn't.

As any good American school child knows, most early European emigrants traveled to what would later become the United States from Western European nations. For various political and religious reasons, some adherents to particular religions, especially Irish, Scottish, and some British may have kept their customs quietly at home rather than disrupt life in the new Colonies.

In what would become Virginia, Captain John Smith and company, you will remember from stories of that first Thanksgiving, were mostly followers of the Church of England and observed Christmas much as they had always done -- good food, good company.

God Bless Us, Everyone
But to the north where settlers would eventually found Massachusetts, the travelers from the Mayflower observed their first Christmas a few short weeks after arriving and had no time to celebrate -- not if they wanted to survive. They were still living aboard the the ship and not yet erected a shelter.

When we look back on history, we remember it often in general terms. We remember Pilgrims who came looking for religious freedom. True. To a certain extent...and from a certain point of view.

Mayflower- 1620
Once the Mayflower folks were able to establish themselves with shelter and other necessities of life, the 41 religious dissidents, as it were, who had fled England and the Netherlands (17 men, 10 women, 14 children) in search of freedom to worship were outnumbered by 61 other passengers - Pilgrims, servants and others. These Pilgrims were looking for a new life in a new world, a purer life, hence Puritan.

Streets of Joy!
Ah, but there was trouble in this new paradise, even at Christmas. As some in the newborn colony excused themselves from work to celebrate the day on that second Christmas in new world, the governor, William Bradford, took exception. It seemed he did have a problem with their Christmas celebrations. They could, he explained, keep Christmas at home as a matter of devotion. There was to be no visible signs of celebration -- certainly no joy, no playing of children in the streets while others went solemnly to work. It went against his conscience, his Puritan work ethic, that they should play while others worked.

It reminds us of that (terrible) saying that seems so popular today: If momma ain't happy - ain't nobody happy. Or Happy Spouse - Happy House. Perhaps I am judging the poor governor by modern eyes,  but I see him as a spoiled child who has to clean his room and he cries that it's not fair as he watches the other children run out to play.

For a country that was founded on religious freedom (not freedom from religion, we remind folks from time to time), it seems frighteningly ironic that we almost lost that very freedom within a year or so of our very establishment. And all over wanting to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Can you imagine this country, this time of year, without Christmas, without the carols, without the tree-lighting ceremonies, without all the tiny little reminders of why we are celebrating in the first place?

So, this Christmas, celebrate with all your spirit! Let the world see you love and cheer! And William Bradford, wherever you are, we're taking my celebration to the street! Unless it rains.

Silent Night

Friday, November 29, 2019

Expect the Unexpected...

There are times when we may want to go out and simply stare up into the skies -- to regenerate, and marvel at the heavens. The universe is a pretty big place, but looking skyward from a city is sometimes a little disheartening. Too many city lights often block out the millions of stars staring back at us.
There's lots of action going on up there
A dark sky locale is generally called for. No distractions from artificial lights -  just out there in the peace and quiet of the night. Oh, and did I mention really dark?

Such a place is Pisgah Crater. 
Pisgah Crater is located in the Basin and Range Province, in the Lavic Lake volcanic field – which means, there’s a lot of ancient lava flows covering the desert floor near the crater. These flows span for many square miles, and in fact, can be easily seen from Interstate 40 or historic Route 66, at about the halfway point between the city of Needles (hometown of Spike, cousin of Snoopy), and Victorville, California, not far from where we make our home. 

Pisgah crater - viewed from the north 
Geologists believe Pisgah may have last erupted somewhere between 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, but there are disagreements about the exact date, even among the experts. Some argue that it may have erupted as little as 2,000 years ago. But, since the Amboy Crater, 54 miles to the east of Pisgah, last erupted about 18,000 years ago, it would make sense that Pisgah probably emptied its magma holdings around the same time. It’s much like how one earthquake can trigger a nearby fault causing a neighboring quake – one close volcanic eruption, can begin another volcanic eruption.

The Pisgah cone once stood at 2,638 feet, but now measures 93 feet shorter, at 2,545 feet. This reduction in height was caused in part by some natural weathering, but also by the impact of mining. It is privately owned by the Can-Cal Resources Limited, a Canadian company which mined the crater for railroad ballast for the Santa Fe Railroad. It appears that mining has not occurred for a few years from the lack of any structures or mining equipment on site.

Though it is private property, easy access proves a boon to many colleges and universities for weekend geology classes. Also, it seems the area has been used in films, music videos, commercials and much more.

The point being: when traveling, always expect the unexpected. 

Approaching the almost totally black volcanic cone one late afternoon, I noticed a number of semi-trucks and trailers parked on a large flat section on the west side of the cone. Suddenly, a helicopter buzzed above and made a daring swoop to the ground and then simply posed in mid-air. Hanging like a hummingbird looking for a feeder.

Why are these trailers on 'my' crater?
“What is going on?” I asked.

Truly, what is going on here?
“A helicopter is hovering,” Paul Bakas replied, my old friend who travels with me when my lovely spouse, Laureen, can’t make the trip. “Now, I think it’s backing up.”

The pilot was outstanding - swooping here and there - feet above the crowds
As we drove up the winding road to the flat surface of Pisgah, we knew instantly that this night was not going to be one of the dark nights, so desired for stargazing.

On the west side of the crater, dozens and dozens of people were milling around, dressed perhaps as aliens, or natives from another time. Skin colored body suits with black stripes over their arms and faces. Some wore outlandishly colored masks.

One woman we met named Lola, informed us she was an extra in a Latin rock video and her job was to walk toward the band as they were playing near the precipice of the volcano. As if the extras were being drawn to the sound like magic.

That sounded very musicesque (I made that term up). The band was there, performing on stage, but no music could be heard. Perhaps, a huge helicopter swooping here and there over the set filming, may have been the reason.

When asked the name of the band, Lola simply replied “I don’t know,” as she walked away in her body suit and painted face, towards the other extras.

Lola - the photo was posed - those actors!
Paul wandered around. He tried asking a limo driver, a food truck owner, anyone who could find, if they knew the band’s name.

“All I got was a Latin rock band,” he told me. “Weird, I asked twelve people.”

“A non-disclosure agreement for everyone?” I asked.

“I’m not a lawyer,” he responded. “But I think you just made that up.”

We watched, after setting up camp, as the actors marched down the hill toward the band and then back up the hill for another take.

Well, not only was the music blacked out, but so was the sky from the stage lighting. Not what we expected for a dark sky night looking at stars. But sitting in camping chairs and watching the action was pretty entertaining.

Always have a plan ‘B’, when plan ‘A’ doesn’t work out. No star gazing perhaps, but the next morning, hiking around the crater proved to be an almost surreal experience. Black sand beneath our boots seemed as though we were walking on another planet.

When time allows, send home a message to a loved one - that would be Laureen

Lava tubes opened up in front of us to be explored (note of caution though, these ancient tunnels where lava once flowed can be dangerous – extreme attention must be stressed).

Lava tubes, deep and long - caution is desired for falling rocks
Pisgah crater is a place to be visited – it’s even a great area to fly a kite. I did, why not?

Go fly a kite! Really, just fly a kite - it's fun.