Sunday, April 1, 2012

Road Trip

Entering Palm Canyon in Borrego Springs State Park
For the past several years we have been concentrating all our spare time, energy, and money on our Colorado Rocky Mountain property, especially the last three years while we built and set up a summer cabin there.  Now, with the cabin completed and my husband retired we have the time to travel elsewhere.  Recently we took a road trip to mostly old neglected favorite spots, like San Diego, and a few new to us, like Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, and saving the best -- a visit with my daughter and son-in-law in the Bay area -- for last.  Here's a quick survey of some of the highlights of the 12 day sojourn.

Finally...and better late than never!
Crossing over running water in the desert
Our lodging for the trip covered the gamut from camping to a three day stay at a luxury hotel (an Internet steal deal), and we both agreed we liked the camping the best, possibly because of the stellar locations.  First stop on our trek (fueled by lunch at our favorite Yuma eatery, Lute's Casino...which is not a casino) was my old haunt and first desert experience, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Growing up in San Diego, we'd almost always take a day trip on Sundays, and would occasionally make the long drive (especially back in the 1960's) to Borrego.  I had hiked and picnicked in this very area several times as a kid and had made a couple of sentimental journeys back as an adult (one such trip in the late 90's was inspirational enough to play into my moving to Tucson over a decade ago), but I had never camped here, so camping overnight was a long-time fantasy come true.  We hiked up Palm Canyon in the fading light and later watched the huge pumpkin-colored full moon rise across the valley while a small and adorable kangaroo rat performed clean-up duty from our dinner under our camp chairs.  We slept soundly in our little tent and the trip to the bathrooms in the wee hours was pure pleasure and flashlight free under the bright moon by then overhead.

I didn't know he existed 15 years ago...
The trail that led me to Tucson
The next day we were heading to San Diego, but first I wanted to repeat a hike I'd done 15 years before while visiting the area.  The destination was the Pictograph trailhead, and as we drove the five single-track dirt road miles to get there in our Honda CRV, I could hardly believe I'd done it alone all those years before in a rented Dodge Neon.  That trip the desert had brought me to my knees with it's special beauty, and that hike had planted a seed that would later lead to my own transplantation to the Sonoran desert.  It was incredible to hike that trail again and marvel at the life changes it had played a role in...most notably that I was doing it with my husband of seven years who had been my neighbor when I first moved to Tucson.  We've been together ten years next month.  It was a very good move.

Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo

The lath house in Balboa Park

Cafe 222's famous peanut butter &
banana french toast
San Diego had been a favorite getaway before every possible vacation day was dedicated to Colorado.  It had been over five years since we'd been there -- insane considering what an easy drive it is from Tucson.  We stayed at our favorite (only) place, La Pensione in Little Italy, conveniently located on the same block as my favorite restaurant, Filippi's Pizza Grotto, with its funky ambiance, great food, and my over 40 year history eating there.  It had been nine years since we visited the San Diego Zoo, a place I visited frequently when living near Balboa Park back in the 70's, so we decided to take that in, and it's quite a bit to take in.  The following day we found a great breakfast spot, Cafe 222 (highly recommended), and enjoyed a bounteous brunch, the playful decor, and the urban energy.  After a trip on the Coronado ferry we walked some of that meal off by exploring the charming neighborhoods of that near-island town, only to return to San Diego and walk the city harbor front, having an early seafood dinner watching the boats sail by.

The view from our San Elijo State Beach campsite
I like our tent...
...but am lusting for this!

We had a short driving day leaving San Diego, heading only about 20 miles north to San Elijo State Beach near Encinitas, to our campsite on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.  Seagulls and patrols of pelicans, salt air, surfers, long walks on broad sand beaches, and some of the best fish tacos of our trip from the taco shack in the park, eaten outdoors overlooking the blue Pacific from our wonderful perch.  We spent two wonderful nights sleeping to the sound of the surf, being woken up -- pleasantly -- once in a while by the train going by a quarter mile away on the coastal route.  We fit in a trip to the San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly Quail Gardens) and loved wandering through the eclectic mix of vegetation, proving that coastal San Diego is one of the best growing areas in the world.

Shades of home in the San Diego Botanic Garden

Chard and red romaine
in the herb gardens

Our next stop was Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, which meant, unfortunately, braving the LA traffic, unpleasant even in off-peak times.  But it was worth it, just, to visit that amazing place.  My favorite spots were the Herb Garden and the Desert Garden (go figure).  For my husband, Bob, an avid desert gardener and volunteer with the botany department at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum here in Tucson (where I am a docent), it was a pilgrimage.  Watching the other guests, we found their faces had the greatest sense of wonder in the Desert Garden -- "It's like something out of Alice in Wonderland!" -- and we were not surprised...just pleased.  We spent that night at the home of long time friends of Bob's in the hills of LA.

Bob next to the world's biggest Joshua Tree

Carmel River Inn
The next day we were off north, destination Carmel via Highway 1.  After lunch in San Luis Obispo, where we used to visit my daughter and her husband, we wound our way up the western edge of the continent.  The day was cloudy and threatening rain and we only caught glimpses of ocean from time to time, but it was nonetheless spectacular.  We easily found our next lodging, The Carmel River Inn, a charming collection of cottages in a garden setting (very reasonable and highly recommended).  After wandering the paths and gardens of the property and watching a very vocal Red-shouldered Hawk, we headed over to a nearby wetlands where the best bird sighting was a White-tailed Kite.  Noting the dates and locations of these and some other bird sightings in my Sibley's, we headed out to the historic and very (some might say too) precious downtown area for dinner.  Knowing we didn't want a fussy dress-up restaurant, I'd done some homework and found a place that promised great food, Tommy's Wok.  We were NOT spicy eggplant I've ever had in my life, from a wok so hot it had caramelized the edges of the veggies.  And it was one of the most reasonably priced meals we had on the whole trip.  Don't miss it if you're in Carmel.  My kids were mighty impressed we'd found it as it's some kind of "insiders" secret.  On our way out of Carmel the next morning we stopped at the Carmel Mission on my daughter's advice...and it was good advice.  It's a gorgeous mission with fabulous gardens and the colors of it all were so delicious that it's proven to be one of the most indelible memories of the trip for me.

On the mission grounds in Carmel

One of our favorite exhibits...the jellies
at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
We headed to Monterey Bay and the aquarium the next morning to meet my daughter and her husband.  It was a joyful reunion, especially after not having seen them for just over a year (and that is NOT happening again).  As members of the aquarium, they treated us to our visit there.  It was our second time, the first being nearly eight years ago, and it was just as good the second time around -- better if you consider I got to share it with my daughter.

My daughter Summer
Husband Bob and son-in-law Chris

The next two days were spent cramming in as much together time as my daughter and I could manage.  Our trip, planned long in advance and dictated a bit by when our friend could visit from the Cleveland area and dog-sit for us, wasn't perfect timing for them.  My son-in-law who is working AND going to grad school was cramming for finals and they had just MOVED the weekend before from a nice but tiny apartment in San Carlos to an adorable two bedroom duplex in Mountain View.  My daughter and I explored their new town, took in a movie, shopped for food and prepared meals while one guy studied and the other enjoyed a traveling break for some March Madness hoops watching and a solo (except for Dusty, the dog) sic-fi DVD extravaganza.  The three days went much too fast, and after an Asian food feast in downtown Mountain View (Asian food lovers -- move there!), we had to say our goodbyes.  I WILL be visiting again, and for a bit longer, this summer.

Home sweet home
The next morning I couldn't get out of that overly-extravegant hotel fast enough, and we were in the car and heading south by 6 AM.  It paid off as it was our longest driving day.  Hoping to miss LA traffic altogether didn't pan out as the pass we'd wanted to take was closed due to snow (!), so there we were again, braving the frenzied freeways of the north side of LA, taking the 210 to I-10.  I was so happy to get over the pass and back down into the desert.  We slept in Palm Desert after a wonderful last road trip dinner in Rancho Mirage at Las Casuelas Nuevas, a lovely and graceful Mexican restaurant with none of the tourist trap hysterical decorating that is so discouraging.

The final day, happy to be back in the desert on open highways and looking forward to getting home, we celebrated crossing the Colorado River and returning to our own state, Arizona.  Tucson welcomed us with its lush vegetation, bolstered by a recent rain.  I slept well in my own bed, french doors open to the Sonoran night, the quiet punctuated by coyote calls, and woke to my favorite place on the planet.  It was a great trip, but it was great to get home.

Home again and not bad for the first view of the day!

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading of your travels and interesting stops. Cafe 222 is now on my list of SD places to try. We've found so many great places up around San Elijo that we rarely even venture into the city anymore.