Thursday, August 28, 2008

Desert Camping and Mud Caves

The desert … its unforgiving harshness, the cracking dirt ground begs for water, the wind and the baron trees leaves some people wondering if it is worth the trip. But... if you can sit quietly for a moment, the desert will come to you, it will lift your spirits… comforting and accepting. Wildlife speaks into the night as the stars multiply by the second…taking a deep breath I am once again filled with peace. The warm night wind travels through my hair as I watch the moon shyly make its appearance low on the horizon before settling high in the desert sky for the night. Coyotes cry, wind howls and the moon shines upon the rocks making them appear as tiny pools of water. These are the reasons I make the long trip into the desert…. It’s more than a destination; it’s an adventure, a spiritual connection with the earth.

Anza Borrego is located about 110 miles East of San Diego, Ca. Besides being a fascinating desert location, Anza Borrego also has some interesting history, exciting off road trails, ghost towns, mud caves, hot springs and ghostly appearances that are said to roam the Vallecito campground. We ended up camping at Agua Caliente because Vallecito was full due to the 150th anniversary of the Stage Coach crossing. Agua Caliente campground has a natural hot spring that campers can enjoy, there is a children’s spring and a separate indoor adult spring, and the campground also has hot mineral water showers as well. The kids were plenty occupied right at our campsite, they dug for treasures and climbed the rocky mountains for hours, not once did I hear “mom I’m bored” in fact they were close to tears when it was time to leave.

Take the time and follow the dirt roads and you will once again be greeted by more mysteries of the desert ….cool caves and long slot canyons. It takes a keen eye to spot the mud caves, they appear like small holes in the dirt, but once you reach the entrance you will be pleasantly pleased by the gifts that are there for you to explore. The caves are made from mud and they have a creepy feeling to them, they seem like they could collapse at any minute. Each mud cave is unique, but they all share some similarities, they are formed by erosion of the ceiling breaking through to the top. Some of the caves can be 80 feet or more underground, most caves follow a serpentine course back and forth. They are all cooler than the sometimes oppressive heat of the desert. These caves are pitch dark, (except for the surprising skylights) so be sure to bring more than one light source and as always bring plenty of water, a spare tire, a shovel (to dig yourself out of the dirt) and snacks….the dirt roads can be slow going. There are approximately 22 mud caves and 9 slot canyons for all ages to explore…if you dare!

The main road that travels through Anza Borrego is creatively called S2; leaving the Agua Caliente campground and traveling further south on S2 will lead you to a dirt road on the left called Vallecito Creek follow the dirt road for about 2 miles and look to the left and you will see a sign called Arroyo Tapiado follow this dirt road for a few miles and you will find the caves.

Traveling to Anza Borrego may be slow, but if you can find the time it is a great trip for all ages
if you cannot get into one of the San Diego run campgrounds, you can also find state run campgrounds by going to and search for Anza Borrego State Park

Reservations for Agua Caliente campground can be made by
through San Diego County

About the campground:

# of sites – Full hook up 53
Partial Hookup 53
Non-hookup 35

Tenting vs. RV – Tents and RV’s are pretty much separated and it is 50/50

Bathrooms – Clean

Showers – Yes! Hot mineral water showers

Water – yes

Electric – yes

Convenience Store – down the street

BOA Recommended sites – 130,129,128,127 in that order for tenting only

Monday, August 25, 2008

Beach Camping in Ventura County

Just last week, we went for a short, one night, camping trip to Pt. Mugu’s Thornhill Broom campground. It was the two of us and our 16 year old and two of her friends.

We’d never really camped there before because usually when we drive by, the place is completely full of RVs and as tent campers, we generally don’t like to go to sleep to the sound of generators.

Anyway, it was actually quite nice. Although it is smack dab right up against PCH, with only a flimsy metal fence separating us from the speeding traffic, the sites are great. You can set tents up in the sand, there are huge fire pits (so you can get that ‘big’ fire going and the water there is very clean.

As far as the sites go, sites 1-7 are good if you want to play on the beach and in the water…nothing but soft sand. (We had site #4) On the other end, sites 55-64 have some small trees and bushes that can be used for privacy…and a little shade. All of the sites in the middle have sand that leads down to rock…then the water. You have to walk over 15 yards of rock to get to the water.
Overall, I like camping there. Dogs are allowed on the beach and the lifeguards are not too strict on letting your dogs off leash (they can run and play in the water.) I guess that I’d say it would depend on what you wanted to do. There is no store and not much to do except lie in the sun and swim.

Please let us know what some of your favorite Southern California places are…camping, beaches, hiking, fishing, etc. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Three Thieves- Eco Wine

Bandit wine by Three Thieves comes in a clever eco-friendly “box” , whoa, don’t be scared because it is “boxed” wine… this wine is as good as any bottle of wine that I have had. The best part of it is the handy box that it comes in, it won’t break, it’s recyclable and if you are camping, you can just throw the box in the fire when you are finished with it.

The Cabernet was smooth and delicate without any harsh aftertaste or smell, it was my favorite. My sister, however, preferred the chardonnay and proclaimed that it was “buttery smooth” We took the smaller versions (approx one glass each) with us on a hiking trip and they fit perfectly in our backpacks without the weight or hassle of the glass bottle… Plus no need to bring a wine opener, you simply pull off the foil covering and voila you are drinking wine on a mountain with your sister. When we were done we literally crushed up the box and brought it back down the mountain.

The Three Thieves have created a wine for the rest of us, their one liter jugs were an instant hit and the Tetra packs are becoming increasingly popular because of their size and convenience.

This is a wine that is definitely a must for anybody on the go!

Bandit wine and more of The Three Thieves Wines are available at or
wherever all great wines are found!

Visit the Thieves and enjoy the wine!

Tent Camping With Black Bears

First off, I’d like to say that this trip to the Sequoia National Forest was to be my first encounter with Black Bears. Before leaving, Mariah (and many other people) told me all of their stories about bear encounters up there and I have to admit that as excited as I was, I was a bit nervous. After our first night camping, I woke to no signs (or stories from other campers) about bears having been in the campground that night. Believe me…I asked just about everyone. I was a bit disappointed and quite honestly…a bit scared to come back to you all with no bear stories. On our second night there, after sitting by the fire and carving a large stick that I’d found into the ‘world’s best bear spear’…to protect us from our impending encounter, we actually opened a big can of baked bean and left them on the table at the site next to ours (nobody was there…we are not that cruel) to see if we could attract a nice big bear that would enjoy this friendly offering. Again with NOTHING! Anyway, we spent two nights at that campground (full post to come) and then decided that maybe we should head deeper into the forest…”where the bears live” for a few nights. At our second campground, which was DEEP into the National Forest, the campground was a bit on the empty side and we ended up with a pretty cool site, in the woods right on the edge of the Kings River. We drove around the campground until we had found the site that bears would like the most. Again…NOTHING! I got a bit pissed and started “accidentally” dropping food around our site…and even calling into the woods, “bears….oh bears….come out and play”…Along with other ridiculous absurdities. At the site right next to us, there were 2 guys and a woman who were from another country and obviously did not know that being nice…and social with the campers around you was the proper thing to do.

We did not like them…for that reason…UNTIL…on the second night, I heard one of the guys from that site yell, “BEAR!” and then he started banging on a pan with a rock that he’d picked up. My eyes widened (out of excitement, not fear) and I jumped out of my chair. I turned and called for Insane Mama, who was in the tent …putzing around, to get her ass out of the tent. I grabbed my bear spear and basically threw it at Mariah while I snatched up our camera and ran to catch up with our neighbor, who was trailing the bear, warning the campers ahead of him. When I reached him (in like 2 seconds), I asked him where the bear was and he pointed ….I saw it! In the dark I saw the outline of a fairly big bear. I had to get closer. I was going to get a picture of this beast.

Armed only with my little digital camera, I darted toward the big black outline as he (or she) made it onto a campsite across the way. The bear stopped at the picnic table (where some idiots had left out trail mix and dried dates…I will thank them later.) The bear stood up and cleared things from the table and grabbed what it wanted. Meanwhile, people were yelling, throwing rocks and sticks at the ground near it, banging pans and blowing whistles…all of this while crept forward until I was about 15 feet from it. I started snapping pictures. They were coming out all black…not enough light. I fidgeted with all of the settings, snapping as I went…not really paying any attention to the 500 pound bear who could have reached my position in about 3 seconds if it wanted to. Seeing the bear only through the camera’s viewfinder, I took about 15 pictures before the bear started to move on towards the next loop of campsites. I did not care what the others were doing…I HAD to get a good shot. I trailed the bear into the woods. Once I came to the next campsite, where a large Chinese family was camping, I warned them and asked the dad if he’d seen the bear. I then heard an young voice from inside the tent a young boy’s voice frantically say, “Is it going to eat us? Are we going to DIE?” I, noticing that the bear was gone…and I was the only one who had followed it into the woods, decided to tell the family that they’d be fine and then I turned back through the woods. As I got back to the site where the bear took the food, I heard the woman yelling at her husband that he had better get them packed and the hell out of there within the next few minutes. This lady really meant what she was saying. I did not stop, and when I got back to our site, Mariah was sitting by the fire awaiting my triumphant bear story and pictures (although her face said something like this, “ok…what happened? Oooohh….you saw a bear?…want a medal? You really are my hero….NOT!”) Anyway I told her about the “chase” after she informed me that as soon as I tossed my “Bear Spear” to her…she just returned to our site for a glass of wine. I guess seeing a bear was not such a big deal for her. She swiped the camera from my hands and started going through the last bunch of images taken and then looked up at me, shaking her head and said, “there is nothing here…it’s all black.”

I told her that with the magic of Photoshop…I could get them to come out.Here is what I have to show for all of my efforts.

The Best In Outdoor Cookware

Family camping, with all 4 kids, is one of our favorite things to do. It is so nice to have everyone running around, enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer.

The problem with this kind of camping mostly comes from the packing stage. With two adults, a 9 year old, an 11 year old, a 13 year old and a 16 year old, there is a lot to consider when readying for a trip. Between the food, drinks, plates, cups and pots and pans, it makes for a lot of figuring out.

Luckily, one of the above just became much easier. With the introduction on GSI Outdoor’s new Bugaboo line, we now have a complete set of pots and pans that can handle pretty much any of our campsite cooking needs. The Bugaboo Cookset LG is a lightweight, compact set of two pots, two pans (that double as lids for the pots,) two cutting boards and a removable handle that attaches to all four items.

We used the cookset on the last few trips that we went on and have cooked everything from steak and potatoes to soup, eggs, grilled cheese and stew. On every occasion, the food came out perfectly over the set’s even-heating cook surface… Although, we did have one of the best campsite chefs with us. One of the coolest things about the set is the DiamondBack Gripper. This handle is interchangeable so that when leaving a pot on the stove, you can remove the handle and then when your food is ready, clip it back on and not have to worry about hot handles or the need for pot holders.

Weighing under 3 pounds combined, the whole set is stackable which allows it to fit snugly into the accompanying mesh bag. This set is all that we have to pack for cookware on any of our trips. In addition, the set is made of lightweight, non-stick coated aluminum and comes in a stylish blue exterior color.

GSI Outdoors, started in Southern California in 1985, has an impressive line of cookware and dining products for just about any outdoor activity.

The set stows in a compact mesh bag measuring 10.75” x 10.75” x 5.75” The set includes a; 2.5 qt. pot, 4 qt pot, 2 dual-use frying pans/lids, 2 cutting boards and a diamondback Griper (removable handle)

Available for $64.95 at I would highly recommend this as an upgrade to your camp set.


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