Thursday, November 27, 2014

Riverside Festival of Lights

Come one - Come all to the Festival of Lights!!
Once again starting November 28th at precisely (as exact as one can get) 4:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time a switch will be thrown and the majority of downtown Riverside in Southern California will become a beacon of twinkling lights for the International Space Station.

There - Just to the north-east - we think
For five long holiday weeks the evenings in this rather beautiful city will be highlighted (a bit of a play on words here) with over three and half million Christmas lights strung through trees, bushes and tightly wrapped around the historic Mission Inn and Spa. The brain child of Frank Miller who started building a small 'rest stop' for weary travelers back in 1902 who came to visit the once thriving citrus valley a mere sixty miles east of Los Angeles. Miller's dream continued to build as did the structure of the Inn to its present day splendor - proudly owned by Duane and Kelly Roberts who seem to try and outdo the previous year's lighting project each consecutive season.

 And a project it is with millions of lights along with animated singers, dancers, and other Holiday spirited entities twirling, bowing, and moving along the exterior of the entire Mission Inn. The interior of the Inn is just as enthralling as the exterior but the favorite is still the outside as tens of thousands of visitors pay court to the artistry which is taken to display such a massive and costly display of lights.

A sing along perhaps?
 In fact, J and L were fortunate enough to spend a night at the Mission Inn two days before Christmas last season and had a chance to speak with some of the folks who had put up the lights. We learned that on some of the tallest palm trees surrounding the exterior pool no cranes or scaffolding could be used to hang the lights but simply a man who seemed to have the ability to clamber up the trunk of the palm while encircling that very same trunk. A rope, good footing, and a pride to do the best job he could were the three ingredients needed to succeed and succeed he did. J would have just thrown the lights as high as he could to the branches and hoped they would stay lit - much like he does at his own abode.

How do they do that?
Professional light hanger he is not. Though, on a side note - John is so enamored with the Mission Inn it was featured in his recent novel - Soft Target (2014).

Professional writer - yes - light hanger - no!

Stay warm - my friends
Besides the lights, there is an ice skating rink, food and craft vendors, stores offering all sorts of specialty items for purchase, hot chocolate by the gallons, and live entertainment within a block of the Mission Inn. A couple of hours can easily be spent hiking from area to area enjoying all that a quaint downtown could offer during the Christmas Season.

Lighted Chariots of Romance

J and L finding it all rather cozy
 Of course, this is not a sales pitch for the 22nd Annual Riverside Festival of Lights (it doesn't need a blog from the High Desert to sell this wonderful event to the public) but simply a reminder by J and L to go out and take in sights and sounds of nearby towns.

It is truly amazing to find such wonderful surprises close to home.

And what better time than Christmas to explore such an uplifting experience.

Move along now - get a crackin' - did I say that really?!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Devil's Punchbowl - Pearblossom

Hiking in Southern California is a wondrous experience any time of the year but one of the most attractive times is the Autumn. Though the 'Golden State' is nearing its fourth year of a very nasty drought this recent Fall the trees are still changing color, the mornings are crisp and the afternoons are generally very comfortable to put one foot in front of the other and hit the wilderness for an adventure.

If California was a sibling he/she would not be liked by the other brothers and sisters. Trying for an analogy here!

This is what makes camping and hiking so enjoyable during this time of year. Moving, seeing, experiencing, and exercising makes for a most wonderful day without the extremely high temperatures of summer.

During the month of November J and L decided to head out to the Devil's Punchbowl in Pearblossom (a mere forty minutes from their abode in the High Desert of Southern California) to explore and a quick (actually three hour) seven and a half mile hike through some of the most interesting and beautiful terrain a human could envision.

Just one of the vistas
As life sometimes does, at the last moment Laureen couldn't make the over-nighter (we had decided to bring the RV and relax in the evening around a campfire after the events of the day). But the trip was still on with John and Paul Bakas (our videographer and cameraman) and the exploration began just forty miles away knowing John had never visited the awesome geologic formations within the Angeles National Forest on the northern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains in the county of Los Angeles.

Guide Posts

We didn't know and know we needed to know. Thus the reason our motto is 'what is in your backyard?'

Devil's Punchbowl sits at a little over  4,700 feet above sea level and was created by the San Andreas Fault which squeezed, over eons, the sedimentary rocks when water leaked through their layers thus creating the steeply tilted forms the area is best known for.

Think of Play-Doh between the palms of two hands tightly clasping each other - remove them and there you have creations of tall visions of beauty. Or at least that's what John remembers with the 'magical' properties of Play-Doh.

Walking the sometimes narrow path toward the Devil's Chair, which isn't a chair at all but just simply a large peninsula like outcropping of granite overlooking the over 300 foot canyon can be a bit challenging. But it is these hikes that make the journey worthwhile. Though the trail is only seven and a half miles it can still break a sweat on the hiker over the 594 foot elevation gain. With Fall in the air moving from a sunny spot on the path to a shady patch beneath cliffs or tall trees can send the temperature dropping fifteen degrees within moments. From sweating to being chilly.

Paul climbing out of the Devil's Chair!

It's the way of hiking!

J enjoying the view.

Walking through forests of pinon pine, Joshua Trees, cottonwoods, and the bushy shrubs of the desert chaparral makes for a day to really enjoy the many varied flora that is indigenous to the locale. Unfortunately due to the time of the year many of the animals one may see during spring and summer were not out but getting ready to hunker down for the winter - perhaps in six months a return trip will be in order to view the chipmunks, squirrels, deer, and even maybe a rattlesnake - but on this hike besides the ravens and a hawk or two gracing the skies the hike was rather devoid of wildlife.

After the hike John and Paul decided to relax in the RV at a public campground just a few miles east of Devil's Punchbowl on Big Rock Creek Road. Sycamore Flat Camp was the perfect place to set up camp and 'rough it' for the night after such a fruitful day. Then again, 'roughing it' in a thirty-four foot Bounder Class A isn't a too bad way to go except for having to start the generator the next morning to brew the coffee.

Yes, Sycamore Flat Camp is a dry camp - no water available - but it does have a very nice unisex cement block porta-potty and bear proof trash cans. The sites are very large and separated from other campers by a good thirty feet or more and the cost - a measly $5 per night! In all their travels J and L have never found anything cheaper (though L wasn't on this trip) unless it was when they pitched their tent way off the grid in 'no man's land'.

A warm fire, cold beverages, fine cigars, a hot dinner, and the comfort of a RV made for a very enjoyable end to a great day of hiking through the wilderness.

Paul Bakas enjoying a warm fire

As we like to say - go and explore in your own backyard and you will be surprised at what you will find. Following our own advice we are constantly surprised and delighted.

And isn't that what researching and exploring is all about - to find treasures you didn't know existed and sometimes at your own fingertips.