Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fire In The Desert - Opal Hill Mine

The Opal Hill Mine, located about 15 miles west of the Arizona border and just south of the 10 freeway, is quite the hidden gem. Owned and operated by Howard and Nancy Hill is one of the only places that the public can dig for the rare and beautiful gemstones called “Fire Agate.”

About a 4 hour drive from our home in Santa Monica, the mine was easy to find, but a bit tough to get to. After exiting the freeway onto the dirt road leading out into the rolling hills of the desert, we soon began to question our navigation skills as everything around us looked the same. “Were we lost?” After passing by the entrance to the palm tree lined, state prison, the road became bumpier and with all of the forks and trails…we eagerly anticipated seeing the sign for the mine. After about 20 minutes of dirt road we finally saw the small, yet distinctive sign for the Opal Hill Mine. Off to the left we went. Excited to get to the mine and set up our camp, we did not mind the rough road we had turned onto. After about 10 minutes we realized how rough the road really was. Rocks, bumps, hills, dips, all sand and loose rock. It was a good thing we had 4 wheel drive…otherwise we may have had to do all of our digging right there in the road. The last ¼ mile reminded me of the story of The Little Engine That Could. I think I heard the car whispering, “I think I can, I think I can.”

We passed a few more small signs for the mine, letting us know that we were in fact going the right way and then, after scaling another steep hill, we were at the entrance to the mining area. The sign, out house and old trailer were all of the indicators that we needed. We proceeded up the winding driveway to the parking area and turned off the engine.

We got out of the car, stretched out legs and walked over to where we saw two people huddled over a small hole in the ground near the entrance to the digging area. As we approached, I asked if they were Nancy and Howard, then we introduced ourselves.

We spent the next 20 minutes or so watching and admiring the new find that Nancy and Howard had uncovered. After Nancy and Howard showed us the crystal formations they were uncovering and how they were extracting them, they indicated to us that we could set up our campsite about 30 yards away on a flat landing on the hillside.

The view from our camping location was great. We had a nice view of the mining area, the surrounding hillsides and the desert floor all the way to the town of Blythe (9 miles away.) After getting our site set up, we walked back down to where Nancy and Howard were digging. They continued to show us what to look for, how to dig and most of all…how to find the Fire Agate that we came to find.

As the sun was setting over the hills, we were both shown to a few spots in the mine that were speckled with the fiery gem. The Hills equipped us with hammers, chisels, buckets and brushes and sat by our sides, offering helpful guidance, while we got a start to the digging process. After spending an hour or so chipping rock away from our finds and getting to know these incredibly friendly mine owners, we headed back up the hillside to our site and the warmth of the fire that we had started.

Our first night camping at the mine was great for the most part. The weather was nice, a bit windy, but comfortable. The one downside was the terrain. If you plan on tent camping at the Opal Hill Mine…Bring a cot, an air mattress or egg crate…the ground is hard and is all sharp rocks. I have to say that I tossed and turned most of the night and waking up with Swiss Cheese-like holes in my legs, hips and ribs did not make for a good morning. Camping at the mine is free, which is nice for those of us that are early birds. You can wake up, have a cup of coffee and start digging. There is also a port-a-potty on site that remains remarkably clean.

We dug for Fire agates and Quartz crystal formations from about 8AM until after sunset that day and I can tell you that if I thought that the sleeping situation made me sore, I was dreading how I was going to feel the next morning. The digging was hard work. Hunching over and swinging the 3 to 4 pound sledge all day in the hot desert sun was exhausting. See Mariah’s in-depth article about the gems and digging.

That night we laid out all of our finds to examine what we had found and spent the next hour or so sifting through our pile for the handful of jewelry quality pieces that we had collected. According to Nancy Hill and several other mine patrons, we had, indeed, found some very nice specimens. Additionally, Petrified Wood , Apatite, Barite, Calcite, Clinoptilolite, Flourite, and Gypsum are also found at Opal Hill Mine.

The next morning, we decided to pack it up and head out. After getting our site packed up, we went back down to the digging area for one last look around and picked up a few little pieces from the tailings area. We said good bye to the others who had started the digging for the day and proceeded to navigate the windy road out of the mine.

Digging at the Opal hill mine costs $25 per day for anyone 16 and older. Children can dig for free with a paying adult. There is NO water, ice, food or drinks available onsite and all trash must be packed out with you when you leave. Bring plenty of food and lots of water. As far as supplies go, you will at least need to bring a 3 pound sledge hammer, a large rock chisel, a smaller chisel, a brush, a water spray bottle and a 5 gallon bucket. There are supplies there that you can borrow, but depending on how many other people are there, you might want to have your own.

There is no limit on how much you can take from the mine for your $25 per day. All in all we had a great time. We loved Nancy and Howard and the rest of the folks digging were a fun and interesting bunch to dig with. If you ever have the opportunity to get out there, make sure to give Nancy a call (760) 854-3000 and stop by the mine for your chance to uncover your own fiery gemstones. It is well worth the trip.

Directions to the mine:
From Interstate 10, take Wiley Well Exit and head south on the graded dirt road for 17 miles. You will see a sign for Opal Hill Mine on the left side of the road. Go left here and travel east for a few miles on a rough dirt road. A high clearance vehicle is needed to navigate on the last dirt road to the mine.
Yahoo Maps

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Camping Gets A Whole Lot Brighter

The new line of lanterns and headlamps from COAST LED Lenser make camping quite a bit easier. On our last camping trip we took our two youngest girls (8 and 10) to El Capitan campground for a long weekend. We gave the Personal Lantern (TT7100) to the girls (nighttime frolickers) and I (as Fire Master and Head of Campsite Security) used the Revolution Headlamp (TT7468).

I do have to say that one of the things that I really don’t like about preparing for a camping trip is the checking of the flashlight and lantern batteries. With the Coast LED products, that job becomes a whole lot easier as the battery life on the headlamp is about 35 hours and on the personal lantern it ranges from 9 to 50 hours. That’s a lot of camping!!!

On the first night, the girls found the perfect spot for their little lantern…suspended from the center pole, inside their tent. It lit the whole tent on the bright setting and served as a great night light on low. They said that it made their tent look and feel comfortable, safe and FESTIVE!

I on the other hand, found both good and ….fun ways to use the headlamp. It was, indeed, a great help in gathering wood, going to the bushes bathroom safer, as there was a few spots with Poison Oak around. I was also able to have a bit of fun annoying people with the lamp on high and seeing people look away and hide their eyes from it’s strong beam.

All in all, both of the products that we tested got thumbs up all around. I would recommend to all of our readers to go out and get a few COAST LED products and cut down on the continuous changing of the batteries.

These products can be purchased through the manufacturer’s web site or directly from each product retails for $59.99

Briefly, about the products:

Revolution Headlamp
• Beam visible up to 3,000 yds.
• High-intensity 1.25-watt LED; white beam
• Patent-pending Prism Reflector System
• Up to 48 hours of light from one set of batteries
• Hinged attachment to position beam
• Adjustable straps
• “Revolution” dimming switch system
• (3) AAA batteries included

Personal Lantern
• 3.55 – watt power
• 45 lumens
• battery life of 9 to 50 hours
• weighs 12oz.
• 6 inches high
• takes 4 AA batteries

Monday, September 28, 2009

Top Notch Sleeping Bags For The Tent Camper

When it comes to tent camping there are a few things to keep in mind as far as sleeping bags go. I know that for me, comfort is the key, and then comes warmth. That may be because I live in Southern California and it really does not get THAT cold. With the differing terrain that we camp on; desert floors, rocky hillsides, hard, packed dirt, pine cones and sticks, etc., etc. I, for one like to have a nice even layer of padding between my sensitive, aging body and earth’s hard floor.

We had the opportunity to review two of Sierra Design’s new sleeping bags, the men’s Verde 20 and women’s Dé Jà Vu 20. Not only did the bags keep us nice and toasty at night, both in the desert and cliff camping on the coast, but they also provided an evenly distributed layer of Climashield insulation. It is also quite nice to know that these bags incorporates Sierra Designs’ Green Effect program; The Climashield Green insulation is post-consumer recycled polyester. EcoSensor Recycled Shell material is spun from recycled materials, too. The Cocona Woven liner incorporates sustainable, all-natural Cocona for improved moisture management and odor prevention.

Now, when you talk about sleeping bags, most people don’t tend to talk about “bells and whistles” or extra features, but I’d like to just mention a few that I feel are worth a side note. These sleeping bags feature a pillow pocket, so that you don’t wake up at 3AM with a rock forming a hole in your head. Your camping pillow will stay in just the right position all night long. They also feature, one of my favorites, the snag-free zipper. I can’t tell you how many sleeping bags I have had to operate on as a result of snagged zippers. I also liked the chest pocket. It is a convenient place to keep a cell phone, light or a watch while sleeping.

As I have had the ….pleasure of camping in quite an assortment of sleeping bags and I can say that Sierra Designs is most definitely in my top list. Get out there and pick up one of these bags so that you can really get a good night’s sleep in order to enjoy all of your fun adventures during the day.

Sierra Design’s most sustainable sleeping bags, can be purchased for $179 (reg.) and $194 (long)
And are available at:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Head To The Hills – Chino Hills State Park

Tucked away, in between the hustle and bustle of Anaheim and Ontario we found one of LA’s hidden gems. Chino Hills State park is an immense park boasting more than 14,000 acres of nature stretching nearly 31 miles. Chino Hills State Park is one of the most well-maintained, low-key, yet easy to get to state parks that I have been to in Southern California. We found this massive park on a fluke. We were driving by and saw a sign so we decided to check it out. Located minutes from the 71 freeway, we were shocked at what we found there. Not only was the 2 mile drive along the dirt road easy, but it was an instant transformation. It was like walking through a door from the noise and pollution of LA to rolling hills of Montana. We were so impressed that we instantly decided to stay the night.

The campground (Rolling M Ranch and Campground) at the park is small, about 20 sites around one loop. For the most part the sites were all pretty good. They were spacious, had great views of the blossoming hillsides, equipped with fire pits, tables & grills. We drove the loop once to choose our spot for the night and decided on site #9, which was on the upper part of the loop, looking out over the “valley” and bordered along the back by high grass and a colorful palate of wildflowers.

Once parked, we began our site set up, much easier with just the two of us (we are now down to just over 5 minutes.) With our tent, chairs, cooking area, cooler and everything else in place we took a stroll to check out the bathrooms and see how they measured up. The bathroom building was immaculate! There were several flush toilets and two free hot showers.

As there was only one other site being occupied this night, we decided to have a nice relaxing dinner and just sit back and relax by the fire. We still had about 2 hours before the sun went down so we explored a bit, picked flowers and just sat, listened and exchanged our thoughts on how nice it was there.

Just before sunset, it started to get a bit chilly so we layered up and threw another few logs on the fire. The campsites are very open, no shade or shelter from the elements there. The wind coming through the hills was “COLD.” Once we got jackets on and positioned in the right spot by the fire, we sat back and could hear the wildflowers and the tall grass behind us swaying in the wind. Not something that we heard too often in LA. A bit later we heard the infamous call of the coyote. Not one or two…my guess would be closer to a dozen. They seemed to get pretty close. It was kind of cool as it just made me feel more and more like we were way out in some rural forest.

The chatter between the coyotes lasted about an hour before they moved on to another area. The stars were out in force, the air crisp and cold and the fire was now a low flicker, so we prepared the site for the night and crawled into our tent. Thankfully the ground, although it was mostly dirt, was not too hard. We just got back from several days in the rocky desert and I don’t think my ribs and hips could take another beating.

All in all I would say that this campground would fall into my top five in the area. Please note that there is not much to do there for children unless they like to hike and explore trails. There are more than 60 miles of hiking trails within the park and plenty of hillsides to play on, but no playgrounds, swimming or organized activities.

Yahoo! Map of Campground area

About the campground:
# of sites – 20
Tenting vs. RV – TENT ONLY - NO RVS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bathrooms – 4
Showers – Free (hot)
Water – Spigots scattered around campground
Electric – No
Convenience Store – No
BOA Recommended sites – 8, 9, 10

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eureka's "Blast From The Past"

Eureka! has hit the stake on the head, when it comes to the old school tent concept. The Timberline 4 is as close to wheat I remember camping in as a child as I have seen in recent years. The A-Frame shape and its dark green color are what come to mind when I think back to camping in the 70’s. Well, that and VW’s, tie-dyes and headbands.

Obviously, the materials that are used in the Timberland are significantly lighter, and much easier to work with than the 70’s canvas and 1 ½”aluminum pole monstrosities that I first camped in.

Weighing just over 7 ½ pounds, the Timberline went up in about 8 minutes to reveal its 7’2” x 8’ 7” floor space. This tent could accommodate 4 people but we had just two. Due to the severe rain that we encountered, we had to stow all of our gear in the corners. It would have been pretty tight if there were 4 of us (plus gear.)

Throughout the evening and into the night, we got hit with quite a hard rain storm. We were a bit concerned as we had to put up some tarps in some areas of the campsite and the tarps were having a hard time keeping out the rain. The ground under the tent was basically a mud puddle and we talked about sliding a tarp underneath the tent so that we did not wake up in the middle of the night completely soaked. We opted not to use the tarp so that we could really see how the Timberland and its polyester taffeta floor would protect us.

At sunrise, as we crawled out of the tent, we felt the floor and our sleeping bags and much to our surprise, EVERYTHING was dry! After making some hot coffee, we did a basic inspection of the campsite to see what needed to be aired out or dried off. To make this easy…everything that was not inside the tent with us ….was drenched.

That being said, the Timberline gets an “A” from me for nostalgia and keeping us warm and dry during a storm.

Timberline 4
5 pole A frame tent
1/2" aluminum frame
Twin-track side opening door
Shockcorded eaves increase stability and absorb wind stress
Hooded fly front and rear allows windows to remain partially open during rain for ventilation
Large rear window and areas of uncoated fabric maximize air flow
Optional vestibule and annex add extra storage and rain protection
Sleeps - 4
Floor Size - 7'2" x 8'7"
Pack Size - 7" x 24"
Min Weight - 7 lbs. 13 oz.
Seasons - 3
Tent Area - 63 sq. ft.
Center Height - 4' 10"

The Timberland 4 (available in 2-person as well) can be purchased at for $189.99

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Freelance Sportfishing At Davey’s Locker

Pulling up to Davey’s Locker, in Newport Beach, at 5:15AM, I was pretty excited…tired but excited. Excited, that I made the hour and ten minute drive, on 3 hours’ sleep, in the pouring rain and gusty winds alive. This was my first trip of the season, so I was not going to turn back just because I was tired and the weather was bad.

After everyone checked in and boarded the boat, we began making our way out of the harbor at a little bit after 6AM. This was soon after Capitan Norris Tapp made the call that the current weather was not going to stop the trip. The majority of the 20 other anglers aboard started mulling about, some getting their gear ready, some honing in on the coffee pot and finding a comfortable seat in the spacious galley (as I did.)

I have to say that the first hour or so was pretty rough. The sturdy, steel, boat was seemingly being toyed with by the sea, but Capitan Norris remained on course. After about an hour or so the weather “laid down,” the sun came out and everyone on deck had a great view of our destination for the day, Catalina. It took us about 3 hours to get there, but once we did, the weather was great and fishing seemed hopeful.

Our goal for the day was to fish for Calico Bass. After speaking with a few of the squid boats in the area, Capitan Norris told us that there had been talk of some nice White Sea Bass in the area and that we were going to see if we could land a few. The Capitan and his crew, Chuck and Chad (who have been working the Freelance off and on since 1985) instructed and assisted everyone with getting their gear set up to catch White Sea Bass. I was using 15 Lb test line with a 1 1/5 ounce sliding sinker and a # 2 hook. It was a basic set up. Chuck and Chad began scooping live squid into the bait wells and cutting strips of some dead squid.

At the first sign of the engine slowing, everyone aboard scampered about to grab their rods and find “Their” spot on the rail. Capitan Norris then stopped the boat and announced that he had a nice amount of White Sea Bass on the sonar. Chad dropped the anchor and once the boat was in place we all “let ‘em go.” It was about 9:30AM and everyone had their lines in the water. Some people were fishing with whole, live squid, some with strips, and others with jigs and plastic lures.

The anglers aboard seemed to be the usual mix of guys. There were a few guys visiting from out of state, a few boat regulars, Ronnie (of TV’s Fishing Expeditions - the local celebrity,) a father and son team and a family of four (2 sons, father and uncle.) Oh, I can’t forget to mention the Capitan’s trusty dog, “Snoozer” who made his rounds making sure that everyone was happy and then made his way back to a comfortable spot for a nap.

There were a few early catches, most of them too small to keep. We all continued throwing our lines out, changing up the bait and trying different tactics. The Capitan came back on the PA and announced that he was going to readjust and try another close by area. We all reeled in our line as we headed about ten minutes east along the south side of the island. Once again, the boat came to a halt and Norris and his crew quickly positioned the boat and told us to “go get ‘em.” It was not long before I started feeling some good bites at my bait. All of the sudden I felt “The Bite” and the tip of my pole bent. After ensuring that I had set the hook, I kept the tip of my pole as high as I could. Chuck rushed over to me and confirmed that I had a good “Fish On!” Chuck and Chad did a great job in clearing the way for me as I struggled my way, back and forth, around the back of the boat. At first it was just a tug of war. The fish would run and then I would reel in. Then, out of no where, I felt my line give. I knew that I had lost a nice sized fish. I was quite bummed as I began to reel in my line. Then my line started racing out again. I guess that the fish had just shot up toward the surface, which made it seem like I had lost it. After about ten minutes we could see glimpses of the fish. Chuck yelled up to the Capitan, “Color! White Sea Bass!” Quickly, Chad and Chuck were glued to each side of me, each with a gaff in their hands. As soon as the fish hit the surface Chad extended his gaff with precision and hauled my 20 pound White Sea Bass onto the boat. This catch seemed to revitalize the rest of the anglers. We all knew that they were out there and everyone wanted a taste of the action.

I have to say that Capitan Norris Tapp was far from a lazy Capitan. He did not waste any time in deciding when to reposition the boat or move to a new location. The “Tapp Attack!” He genuinely seemed to know the waters, know the fish and take pride in doing everything he could to ensure that everyone on board had a chance to land fish. Norris, fishing since the age of 3 (with his father) has been fishing out of Davey’s Locker since 1982 and has been a main, full-time, Capitan of the Freelance for 17 years now.

Before long I heard it again, “Fish On!” This time it was 14 year old Alex, from Los Angeles, who was there on the boat with his older brother, his father and his uncle. From the look of his rod tip, it looked as though it was another big White Sea Bass. Holding his own, this young angler fought his way around the boat with grand plans on landing this beast. Again, with gaffs in hand, the deck hands, Chuck and Chad skillfully plucked the second big fish from the water and laid it out on the deck for Alex to admire. Alex, who fishes with his family once or twice a moth, claims that this is his biggest fish ever.

By about 2:30PM the catch totals were somewhere in the area of; two 20+ pound White Sea Bass, and a few Calico Bass, Perch and Sheepshead and one small Halibut. The bite laid off and Capitan Norris announced that he was going to the front side of the island, near Avalon, to look for the Calicos. Everyone found a seat, reorganized their gear and set-ups, had a burger and a drink and relaxed a bit before we got to the next spot.

Once we were positioned near Avalon, there was not much action. Capitan Norris skillfully moved the boat from one place to another, looking for the right spot. After a few short fish were reeled in and the sonar looked bleak, we all realized that the Calico’s were just not biting that day. It was around 4PM and we were told that we’d hang in there for another 30 minutes or so to see if anything bit, but then we would head for home.

We motored away from Catalina at 4:40PM. It was time for the jackpot. We all knew that it was going to be close. Alex and I were the two in the running. Chad gathered our fish and put them in the scale……..WOW, was it close. When all was said and done, Alex beat me by about 2 ounces. Chuck and Chad asked Alex and I if we wanted our fish filleted. I told them that I did. Out came their knives! It was almost like being at Benihana’s with them flipping the fish around. A cut here and a slice there and the 20 pound fish was quickly reduced to some nice, grill-ready, fillets. After filleting my catch, Chad cut out the “stones” from the head of the two White Sea Bass and offered them to me and Alex. He told us that they were actually treasured trophies found only in White Sea Bass. He continued to tell us that some people made jewelry from them, some kept and souvenirs and some as good luck charms.

Upon my researching, these “stones” were actually the ear bones of the White Sea Bass. They are called otoliths and have long been considered good luck charms and were used as wampum by early California Indians. Otoliths have been found in Indian middens throughout California and even to this day many fishermen save these large calcareous ear bones for ornamentation and good luck charms.

The ride home was about 3 hours, but it was a smooth, uneventful, (restful for me) trip into the harbor.

If you are in the Newport area or looking for a great open party boat to go out on, I recommend the Freelance. Both the Capitan and the crew are a top notch bunch and I hope to be able to go out with them again soon
“We really like kids (due to their enthusiasm and desire to learn about fishing) and ladies who come out after determining that sportfishing is fun, wholesome and for everybody,” says Capitan Norris Tapp. “The other Captains on the Freelance and I are concerned about catching whatever type of fish is's all about the passengers catching and learning how to catch fish. “

The Freelance is a 80x24 foot steel sport-fisher which was custom built in Wilmington in 1985 for owner Don Brockman, who was the original Capitan for it’s first 10 years serving anglers of Southern California. The Freelance operates out of Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach CA and offers ¾ day coastal and Catalina trips. There are also 4 other boats that operate out of Davey’s Locker; Western Pride, Tide Change, Caliber and Bongo’s offering anglers everything from ½ day trips to overnights and 6-Pack charters. I can’t wait to get out on those boats – if they operate anything like the Freelance.

For further information and reservations, visit their website at or call them at (949) 673-1434.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cachuma Lake Recreation Area

Located about 30 minutes northeast of Santa Barbara, Lake Cachuma’s County Campground offers something for everyone.

Located on the South rim of the lake, this monstrous campground is home to more than 400 campsites. In addition to the tenting, partial hook-up and full hook-up sites, you can also rent 4-5 person “yurts” ($60 - $70/night) and cabins ($145-$165/night) on-site.

For such a big campground, we found that it was pretty well maintained. The sites were all decent sized, restrooms were evenly spread around the grounds and there is even a well-kept, coin-operated, shower building.

On-site there is also; a store, a gas station, boat dock and launch, a café, tackle shop and boat rentals, a swimming pool (open during the summer months for a small fee) and several playgrounds.

Being such a large campground, bringing bikes would be a great idea. We rode around for a few hours and had a blast. The campground does an OK job separating the RVs from the traditional tenters. There are areas with full hook-ups, areas with partial hook-ups and some with no hook ups. You will find far less RVs, generators, outdoor TVs and such if you stick to the no hook-up areas. I would love to see the park not allow any RVs in the no hook-up areas so that us tenters can have an area of our own.

It was annoying, to the point of being comical, to bike around and see people with generators running just so that they could watch TV or play video games in their immense, mobile condos. We saw; a truck loaded with artificial grass to put down in front of his RV, pink Flamingos and garden gnomes carefully positioned around one lucky RVer’s site we even saw another group of massive RVs positioned in a U shape offering their owners their own little brightly lit “compound.”

We found a cool spot under a few trees and up against a bank, running down to the water. The site that we were in (#295) was large and flat. We could have easily set up 6 – 8 tents and still had room to play around. The fire pits were a bit awkward as they were basically thick, cement blocks with one side missing. Once we got the fire started and figured out the best way to keep logs from falling out of the missing side (using the cooking grate,) we were able to get quite a nice fire going.

On our rides around the campground talking with other campers, we were able to identify a few other cool sites that we would suggest trying to get after /during your check-in. These sites include; 285, 288, 290, 299, 313, 315, 397. The sites 441 to 483 (towards the end of the point) tend to get very windy. The loop of sites in the 500 range was closed down and is only open during the summer months so we did not have a chance to check them out.

The group sites were actually very impressive with large (5 feet across) fire pits, clusters of picnic tables, huge, crank-down cooking pits, and many had horseshoe areas. If you are interested in one of those sites, make sure that you have a TON of people going with you as they range from $160/night to $600/night.

This campground is a first come first serve operation. I would suggest getting there a day early if you think it is going to be busy.

Yahoo! Map of Campground area Click HereLake Cachuma offers plenty of fishing, but no swimming or skiing in the lake, boating but not swimming or skiing? You must have proof of current rabies vaccination for your dogs and the helmet laws are enforced for children under 18… even for scooters.

About the campground:
# of sites – 400+
Tenting vs. RV – 60% no hook-ups
Bathrooms – 6 plus scattered port-a-potties
Showers – 1 large shower house and two restroom buildings also have showers
Water – shared water spigots
Electric – at about 405 of the designated sites
Convenience Store – Yes
BOA Recommended sites (for tenters) - 285, 288, 290, 299, 313, 315, 397

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sperry Top-Siders - A Great Fit

Not having heard of Sperry before, I was not expecting much prior to getting the samples. We received both the men’s Barracuda Sport Fisherman and the women’s Spectra for review. Looking at the shoes, I became a bit more eager to test them out. The Barracuda is a great looking shoe. It is very light, which concerned me when thinking about foot protection, but it seemed to be well constructed.

I first wore them camping. We did a lot of hiking along trails and the inevitable security patrols around the campsite. They were exceptionally comfortable and actually felt as if I were wearing sneakers. I did notice that on the cold nights and mornings that for once I was not complaining about my feet being cold.

The next test was fishing. As these top-siders are made for fishing and boats and I already knew the comfort and warmth of the shoe, I only had a few things to review; traction on wet surfaces and how dry my feet would stay. All that I can say with regard to fishing is that my feet stayed perfectly dry and warm and not once did I slip on the deck!!!!

The final test for the Sperry’s was my hiking adventure deep into the Santa Monica Mountains yesterday. As I had become quite fond of the new Barracudas, I had to give them one last test instead of wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots.

Gearing up for our trip, I ran into the first (and my only) dislike (flaw) of the shoes. While I was lacing them up, one of the riveted eyes for the laces popped right out. The laces could still be tightened as there is another strap holding the eye in the right general location. I proceeded to wear them for the hike as I knew this would be another great test.

I have to say that I was not disappointed. We spent 4 hours in some of the most difficult terrain that I’ve been on in a long time. We hiked on mud, gravel and dirt paths, climbed steep rocky hillsides, jumped and climbed boulders along a streambed, scrambled up and down ravines with absolutely on footings and climbed steep, slick riverbed rocks. At no point did I loose traction, hurt my feet or feel anything but comfort and security with the Barracudas.

Mariah reviewed the Spectra and was quite happy with them. She wore them in a number of circumstances including; camping, fishing, kids’ soccer games and on errands.
The Spectra slip on shoes by Sperry are not like your grandfathers old topsiders, these are stylish and comfortable. She barely felt like she was wearing shoes at all! They were very comfortable and kept her feet dry … and when they did get wet they were quick to dry.

With the exception of the construction quality issue I ran into, I have to say that I LOVE these Sperrys. I give them a big BOA thumbs up!!!!!

The Barracuda retails for $90.00 and the Spectra for $80.00
Both are available at:

Some Specs:
Waterproof Construction Keeps Feet Dry in Wet Conditions
Ultra-Light Construction Reduces Foot Fatigue
Stain & Water Resistant Leather Provides Durable & Lasting Wear
Padded Tongue and Collar for Added Comfort Around the Foot
Removable and Full Length Molded Footbed with Wave-Comfort System for All Day Under Foot Comfort
Molded EVA Cushion Midsole for All Day, Under-Foot Comfort
New Hydro-Grip™ Rubber Traction Compound Offers the Ultimate Performance Traction Outsole Compound
Non-Marking Lugged Rubber Outsole with Wave-Siping™ for Versatile On/Off Water Traction
Low Water Absorption Materials are Quick Drying
Removable, Full Length EVA Footbed for Full Foot Shock Absorption
Outsole Drainage Ports Promote Water Drainage
Elastic Lace with Locking Toggle Adjusts for a Secure Fit
Non-Marking Rubber Outsole™ with Razor Cut Wave-Siping™ for Ultimate Wet / Dry Traction

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Trailfinder Line By Energizer

The Little Pink Bunny Goes Camping
Energizer, you know…that company with that crazy pink bunny that never stops, has once again outdone its competitors. Energizer’s new Trailfinder series of lighting for outdoor enthusiasts has thoroughly impressed me. I recently had the opportunity to test out a few of the products in that line and although I don’t much like fumbling with batteries before a trip, this new line, featuring LED technology has sparked my interest.

When the batteries in a full strength lantern outlast my trusty, favorite camping flashlight, thoughts of retiring it fill my head. It is a sad thought…I love my flashlight, but with this new LED lighting option, the battery life-span is more than tripled. The thought of changing batteries has never been one of my favorite things and now I can let those thoughts slip right to the back of my head.

The Energizer products that we tested included (in the order that I liked them): 6-LED Headlight, 2-in-1 LED Light, Dual Power Lantern and the 3-LED Headlight. Surprisingly enough, I was thoroughly impressed with all of them.

The 6-LED Headlight features a 4 function light, which was great for me. It ranges from a red, night vision light all the way up to the 6-light spot/flood combo that illuminates everything around you. Running on 3 AAA Energizer MAX batteries, this “Super Headlight” can last up to 50 hours (as does the 3-LED Headlight). I actually gave my old headlight to Mariah as I wanted this one for myself. “Sorry Mariah.”

Secondly, the cute little 2-in-1 LED Light was a great bonus among the products that we got. It is a palm sized LED flashlight that when extended, serves as a great little lantern, good for inside a tent, on the table while eating or set in a box or trunk while looking for something at night. When I finally was able to get the kids to stop playing with it, it came in very handy for bathroom runs and missing garments around the campsite.

The Dual Power Lantern is also pretty cool as it offers a car adapter so that when car camping, you can plug in into the cigarette lighter and save on having to pack extra “D” batteries.
All in all, this new line from is going to make me keep going and going and going….back to Energizer.

Visit the Energizer site ( today to see where you can pick up any of the above recommended products…Brighten your next camping trip!

We can’t wait to get our next bundle of goodies from Energizer’s amazing product line.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jalama’s Beach Camping

Located about an hour north of Santa Barbara (just south of Lompoc,) Jalama Beach is one of the coolest campgrounds that I’ve been to in years. The combination of the great beach, on-site store/café, individual and group sites and its remote location make this a one of a kind camping experience.

Upon heading up the 1 freeway from the 101 (north of Goleta), we quickly realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. It was nice to be completely surrounded by nothing but trees and pastures. Once we got to the turn of for the campground, we spent another 30 minutes driving along the windy country road all the way out to the coast.

Upon arrival we checked in with the ranger and found that there were only 2 sites available for the weekend (99 and 100.) These sites are located up on the hill above the check in booth and would not have been our first choice of spots, but we did have a spectacular view of the beach and ocean as well as a full view of the entire campground.

Jalama is one of the remaining few campgrounds that is still first-come-first-serve so it is recommended that for any stay, during busy times, try to arrive on a Tuesday or Wednesday for your chance to get one of the 12 “on the beach” sites (53-64.) Sites 1-9 and 17-26 are also pretty cool if you are into socializing with your neighbors. They are all lined up next to one another in a grassy area in the middle of the campground. All of the sites that I have mentioned do have enough space for a family to be comfortable, but make sure to bring an EZ-UP or umbrellas for shade as there are not too many trees on site.

The beach is great! There was a huge assortment of people enjoying the water. Everything from surfing, kite-surfing, swimming, body boarding and searching the tide pools for cool rocks and sea creatures. We had a blast at the beach. Running around with our trusty camping dog “Amy” and collecting rocks, seashells, driftwood and fossils of all kinds kept us busy most of the afternoon. One thing that I love about the beach is that the south half is soft sand and the northern section is rock formations and tide pools. No matter what you like to do at the beach….you can do it there. We spent an afternoon just sitting there on the beach letting our dog run wild, watching the schools of dolphins dancing in the surf and taking pictures of the crazy kite-surfers speeding through the water. The crowd at Jalama is a nice change. There were a perfect mix of people – from elderly RVers and parents (with their kids) to college and high school students.

After taking all of the hot sun that we could, we took refuge in the shade at the café. Jalama’s store/café has some of the best burgers that you could ever want. Depending on the time of day, you could end up waiting (as we did) for nearly an hour for the burgers to be done. They get BUSY!!! I would suggest ordering your food and then going back to your site for a cool drink and rid the sand and saltwater from your hair and body. By the time you get back, your food should be ready. The store also offers; groceries, personal care sundries, firewood, fishing bait and tackle, ice, beer and wine and much more.

The campground has a cool grassy picnic area on the north side and an incredible group camping area “C” in the southwest corner. Plus a children’s play area

Basic Info:
There are 98 campsites, all overlooking the ocean or beachfront. Each site has a picnic table and BBQ pit, with hot showers, restrooms and water nearby. 29 sites offer electrical hookups, and dump stations are available. 5 bathrooms and 1 shower building. Campsites are assigned on a first come, first served basis -- one site to one vehicle. Only group areas may be reserved in advance. Keep in mind that summer is their busiest time, and that campsites fill fast. Check-out is 2:00 pm. Campers under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Jalama Beach County ParkStar Route, Jalama Road Lompoc, CA 93436Recorded Information (805) 736-6316Group Camping Reservations (805) 934-6211Park Office (805) 736-3504

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Motorola Has Proven That They Are A Company To TALKABOUT

Having an opportunity to review Motorola’s new TALKABOUT T9580RSAME two-way radios was a great experience for us. Motorola has succeeded in packing clarity, ease-of-use and the latest technologies into a stylish and durable package.

These new radios are amazing. We took the units on several camping trips and were impressed that no matter where the kids snuck off to, we had a way to clearly communicate with them. The units performed much better than I had previously experienced with two-way radios. It did not seem to matter what the terrain was; campground, beach, hiking in the mountains or on the highway in two separated cars…the TALKABOUTS were quite handy to have with us.

One of the best things that we ran into while reviewing the units was the fact that they were at points, our only way of communicating while on trips in areas where there was no cell phone coverage. Camping and hiking in very remote areas with children between the ages of 9 and 16, it is nice to know that they can reach us if they need to.

On the lighter side, these radios can also provide hours of fun, as was proven to us by our youngest and her friends. While camping or just running around the neighborhood, they have spent ours playing secret agent, spy games, etc. Loaded with their convenient, rechargeable batteries and their tough casing, I have the radios out where they can be used by anyone at any time.

These radios also incorporate a great bundle of technology which allows users to monitor weather and emergency services in their area. “The Motorola TALKABOUT EM1000 and T9580RSAME series of two-way radios enable today's active families to enjoy the great outdoors without missing important emergency and weather alerts with convenient, total emergency preparedness for the home," Marjon De Groot, Director of Marketing for Giant International, a Motorola distribution ally. “The radios integrate the best of two-way FRS/GMRS functionality with reliable weather and emergency warnings to deliver a powerful communications tool."

The T9580RSAME radios also help warn users of emergencies through Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology. SAME technology helps filter out distant warning broadcasts and monitors only programmed localized area, helping reduce the chance of false alarms. Leveraging this technology, the Motorola TALKABOUT T9580RSAME radios display a three letter code for the type of emergency, and a voice message plays when an alert is broadcast from the National Weather Service. The T9580RSAME radios are the first in the industry to offer this service together with two-way FRS/GMRS communications.

The T9580RSAME radios allow users to maintain clear connections with the convenience and flexibility to fit every lifestyle. With 22 channels, each with 121 privacy codes, users have 2,662 combinations of communication channels to choose from. Additionally, hands-free communication is available by using the iVOX speech-activated feature, which provides outdoor enthusiasts and active families the freedom of mobility in even the most remote settings.

If you and /or your family enjoy exploring the outdoors, going on adventures as much as we do, log onto the Motorola store or go directly to the product page at: and get yourself a pair of these unbeatable two-ways. They are GREAT!!!!!

The Motorola TALKABOUT T9580RSAME has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of $89.99 per pair.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Channel Islands Sportfishing

Sportfishing off the coast of Southern California gets no easier than Channel Islands Sportfishing. Located between LA and Santa Barbara, in the city of Oxnard, Channel Islands Sportfishing offers a fleet of 9 boats ranging from ½ day to full day open party excursions as well as boats dedicated to private charters. We were invited to go out with them on their 65 foot Gentleman for a ¾ day trip. Upon arriving at the tackle shop at 5AM, we were greeted by Doug, the boat’s owner. He was very helpful in getting us set up for the trip, supplying us with a rental rod, fishing licenses and the appropriate tackle suggested for this trip.

As we made our way out to the boat with the 23 other anglers that would be joining us on the trip, we found that there was a great mix of first timers, regulars and folks visiting from out of town. My guess would be that today’s anglers ranged in age from 18 to 65 and there were (including Mariah) two women fishing for the day.

The crew consisted of; the Capitan – Don Rowell who has been fishing these waters since he was a boy. He first started working on the Gentleman in 1983 and obtained his Capitan’s license in 1993. The two Deckhands; Brian, who has been working the deck of the Gentleman for about 7 years and Bobbie who moved from running the tackle shop to deckhand about 2 years ago. Then there was Wendy, who ran the galley and Chris “pinhead” who was the young teen using some of his, Summer, free time to help out on the boat in hopes of becoming a full timer on the Gentleman after he is done with school. We knew that with this crew…we were in good hands to fish the waters around the Channel Islands.

It was a beautiful day and the trip out to the islands took about 2 hours. On the trip out, all of the passengers busied themselves preparing their gear and loading up on coffee and Wendy’s famous breakfast burritos.

As we approached the island and the marine layer was almost gone, the morning sun offered us an amazing view of the island and the waters that we would be fishing for the day. As the boat slowed, the captain’s voice came over the loud speakers for the deckhands to start chumming. He then told us that due to the changing water temps in recent days, that the fishing was going to be tough today and not to expect limits. The boat circled around and the anchor was dropped. The captain told us to start fishing. As we were in waters where the catch was everything from White Sea Bass and Calico Bass to Perch, Halibut and Barracuda, people were using an assortment of bait and lures…trying to find the best fit for the waters. Our bait was sardines and frozen squid strips. Mariah and I began with the squid and then tried sardines. The bite was slow but there were a few nice fish pulled from this spot.

As the day progressed and we worked our way from spot to spot, with the help of our “fish chasing captain” we were able to land 9 Whitefish, 11 Rockfish, 21 Halfmoon, 17 Calico Bass, 2 Barracuda, a handful of Perch and an assortment of juvenile fish that were released.
The crew was very friendly and helpful to everyone. They were able to keep the fish landing in the boat, the lines from being tangled and …for the most part they did their best to keep the Pelicans, other birds and the seals away from our lines.

The other folks on the boat were great to fish with. In particular, there was a father (from Simi Valley) and his two sons 18 & 19 (who live in Las Vegas) on the boat. They seemed to have a great time and landed a few nice fish themselves.

On the return trip to the harbor, we watched as deckhands Brian and Bobbie skillfully cleaned and filleted all of the fish aboard – for a small fee, stopping only a few time to offer us up close up views of fish hearts and innards that one would normally not see.

All in all…I would highly recommend Channel Islands Sportfishing to anyone interested in getting out on the water for a day of exciting sport fishing.

Channel Islands Sportfishing Center is located near extremely productive fishing grounds. Our fleet services the Northern Channel Islands including: Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Barbara Island, Santa Rosa Island, and San Miguel Island! We have a variety of trips available including local 1/2 day trips, 3/4 day islands trips, and overnight outer island trips. When you fish with us you can expect to catch Calico Bass, White Seabass, Halibut, Sand Bass, Barracuda, Yellowtail, Rockfish, Lingcod and on good years we may even get some Albacore Tuna or even some King Salmon! Be sure to call and make your reservation at 805-382-1612.

Rent Rods $12.00Rent Rods (Junior & Military) $8.001 Day License $12.60 (16 years and older)

Visit them online at: or the Gentleman at :

California Paintball Park – Friendly Fire!!!!

Paintball wars seemed to us to be the ideal setting for our son’s 13th birthday party as none of the boys had ever played before. (Click here to see Cody’s review of the park) We contacted California Paintball Park in Castaic to arrange the group of 5 kids to play for the day. The owner, Les Vido, was extremely helpful and a pleasure to work with.

Driving, the hour from Santa Monica, was quite comical to us as the ride began with the 5 kids in the back all boasting and talking about how badly they were going to “destroy” one another. Then there was the last portion of the ride where everyone seemed to get kind of quiet. The anxiety and concern was obvious by the intermittent questions that popped out of the kid’s mouths…. “So, who are we going to play against?” “Can we play on our own field?” “Will they out us with kids our own age?” We answered as best we could but all we could really say was that we did not know and would have to find out when we got there.

Making the last turn into the park almost made me burst into laughter. We past the sign for the park and immediately off to the right was a group of 20 and 30 something men and women dressed head to toe in fatigues with amo belts and paintball machine guns slung over their shoulders. I thought it was only right that I slow the car down and pull to the side and announce to the boys, “OK guys this is who you are playing.” My glance through the rear view to see their faces was humorous…to say the least.

We then continued into the parking lot and got ourselves over to the check in counter. The set up at the park is done in a way to help folks get into the park in a pretty quick manner. There are 3 counters that you need to check in at; one to sign the waiver forms, one to pay for your rentals and one to collect your gear. Once we had gone through the series of counters and the boys had their weapons, face masks, amo belts, chest / back protectors and jumpsuits we moved of to the side to get them filled up with the paintballs.

As we were not a private party, the boys were what are called “walk-ons” this is just the collection of all of the people that come out to play on a given day. We were then approached by a guy in a black and white stripped referee shirt who proceeded to run through the park rules, gameplay and overall strategy for playing at the park…as well as the warning to keep their face masks on at all times as the paintballs travel at 280 feet per second (or 160 MPH) and if hit in the face….might hurt. Once everyone was ready we made our way up to the first of the fields that the boys played on that day, “Terminator City.”

Once up at the entrance to the first field, there seemed to be about 50 players up there waiting to get their guns a blazing. The referee came up and divided the group into two teams, giving orange arm bands to one side. The park staff is very aware of the regular players and does a great job splitting them up so that the teams end up being pretty fair. We watched as the boys hit the field. Once the ref was signaled that both teams were ready, he counted down from five and then Yelled, “Open Fire!” The game was on. It was actually quite fun to watch, although being in the field area, we had to have on the face masks for safety. It looked similar to a skirmish in some old time war movie. Advancing, and hiding behind whatever could be found, but blasting away with the semi automatic guns the whole time. After a few minutes many of the participants were “out.” Once you are hit with a paintball, you are instructed to raise your gun high in the air and quickly move to the sideline as to not get attacked by the other team. When it got down to about 10 people per side, the strategy seemed to kick in. Lots of scampering about and people taking up sniper positions. It was all I could do to not start yelling, “quick, look to your left. Move up. Fire!”

The walk-ons, if they get to the park early, can play as many as 12 to 14 games throughout the day. The walk-ons that day were a huge mix of people. We saw kids from 10 years old (the minimum age) to adults in their 30s. There were team players wearing their team gear and toting their $200-$300 weapons and there were a large number of 20-something couples and friends enjoying battle after battle.

While the kids were off fighting their wars, Mariah and I sat down with the park owner, Les, to get some further details. After walking around the park and seeing all just about every color of the rainbow splattered on the ground, one of our first questions was about the paint. What was it? Does it stain? What is the park clean up like? Les explained that the paintball is an oil-based paint inside a thin shell that are both biodegradable. Les told us that he loved his clientele but that his mission was to provide a safe, fun family atmosphere for everyone. “When was the last time you got together with your friends and family and were able to, safely, shoot them all?” Les said with a smile.

California Paintball Park has been open since 1990 and has been operating under the new ownership for three years now. The park is a 38 acre facility that is home to more than a dozen playing fields, a concession stand, covered, private party areas and the gear and staging areas. The park has anywhere from 10 to 20 staff on the grounds on any given day, depending on the volume of players. The park is open every Saturday and Sunday for walk-ons and open every day of the week for private parties and corporate events. If you are interested in holding a private party or event at the park, make sure to contact the park at least a week ahead of time, but preferably two weeks out. The park is also a regular training and event location for local law enforcement, fire department and the military.

At 4PM, when the park begins to shut down, we gathered up the boys and could not keep from laughing. They were BEAT UP!!! It was quite funny. They were sweaty, dirty, exhausted, and covered with paintball spatter. They all said that they had a great time and that they’d love to go again. With only a few welts and bruises, I have to say that it was quite a successful day.

If you plan on spending the day at the park on warm or sunny days, call and reserve a covered picnic area for your group. It gets HOT! Also, bring a picnic lunch and lots of water. There is a food stand with limited offerings, but we would suggest bringing your own.

Thank you to everyone at California Paintball Park for a great day!

California Paintball Park is located at: 31050 CHARLEY CANYON RD CASTAIC, CA 91384
And can be contacted at: or (310) 883-3517

Below is the listed pricing information, but be sure to call ahead as pricing changes from time to time.

WALK-ONS - $20* includes:1. All-day admission (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.) 2. Use of paintball target range 3. Use of shaded picnic area*WALK-ON SPECIAL: WHEN YOU BUY ONE CASE OF PAINTBALLS, YOU'LL EARN ONE FREE ADMISSION!-For Weekend only

Arena/Tournament - $20.00 Saturday and Sunday only
1. All-day admission for the arena's only (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.)

Arena/Tournament Thursday night!!! - $20.00 (Winter/Spring)
1. Admission for the lighted arena only (5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.)-Air Included

Arena/Tournament Thursday night!!! - $30.00 (Summer/Fall)
1. Admission for the lighted arena only (5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.)-Air Included

We offer several money-saving DISCOUNT packages: "On Rentals Field Paint Only"

WEEKEND WARRIORS I Packages- $43.00 includes:
1. Half-day field admission. 9 a.m. - Noon OR 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. 2. Use of a semi-automatic machine airgun 3. Complete camouflage outfit 4. Goggles and face mask 5. 100 paintballs and free CO² all day (plus lunch included)

WEEKEND WARRIORS II Packages- $53.00 (Value!) includes:
1. All-day field admission 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. 2. All day use of a semi-automatic machine airgun3. Complete camouflage outfit 4. Goggles and face mask 5. 500 paintballs and free CO² all day (UPGRADE TO 1,000 PAINTBALLS FOR $20)(plus lunch included)

JR. WARRIOR SPECIAL Package for Kids 10-17 ONLY- $39.00 (a $55.00 value!) includes:
1. All day use of a semi-automatic machine airgun2. Facemask and goggles with ear-protection3. California paintball Park decal or emblem4. 100 paintballs and free CO² all day(plus lunch included)

EQUIPMENT RENTAL-(All Rental guns must purchase paintball at CPP)
1. Gun Rental: Semi- Automatic Machine Airgun - $10 1/2 day $15 Full day (Free air fills on all constant air gun/mask/camouflag rentals) 2. Goggles and face mask - $53. Complete camouflage coverall - $10 4. 100 paintballs for $10 and 500 paintballs for $255. ½ Case (1000 - CPP Balls) - $49 6. 1 Case (2,000 - CPP Balls ) - $69 (WHEN YOU BUY ONE CASE OF PAINTBALLS YOU EARN ONE FREE ADMISSION- Self Equiped only 7. CO² 9oz, 12oz and 20oz $10 for all-day. NITRO fills cost $10.00 for all day.

Party Rental Group-not combined with any other discounts
1. Tactical Package 20+ People $25.00 per person (Self Equiped players only) * admission to the park *Unlimited Air *100.00 for the referee *Private party booth
2. Jr. Warriors Package 20+ Kids $35.00 per child 500 pbs (Paintballs must purchase at the park)

* admission to the park *Full day rental*Unlimited Air *100.00 for the referee *Private Booth *Free Birthday Gift


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