Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lake Fire Update And San Gorgonio Wilderness Closure

As a result of the Lake Fire, the entire San Gorgonio Wilderness is closed through October 1, 2015.  For a copy of the order closing the wilderness click Here.  After such a bad fire, the area definitely needs time to heal and recover, and the actual area that burned will likely be closed for much longer. U.S. Forest Service officials have determined the Lake Fire was sparked by human activity. The U.S. Forest Service is still investigating what caused the fire, but officials have ruled out natural causes like lightning. Human-caused could mean intentional, accidental or due to an electrical wire malfunction. Since the Lake Fire was first spotted on June 17, 2015, the Lake Fire has burned 31,359 acres, destroyed one home and three outbuildings and injured six firefighters. Currently the Lake Fire is 98 percent contained, but the last 2 percent is not going to be an easy finish. Remaining pockets of flames are almost impossible for firefighters on the ground to reach. Any visible smoke that occurs is within the containment area and most likely it will take a season-ending event, such as heavy rain or winter snow to fully extinguish the fire.

All Forest Service lands in the area of the fire remain closed to recreation purposes including the day-use areas of Barton Flats Visitor Center, Greyback Amphitheatre, and Jenks Lake Day Use Site. Campgrounds along Highway 38 are expected to re-open today including Barton Flats, San Gorgonio, South Fork, Skyline, Council, Heart Bar, Oso, Lobo, Heart Bar Equestrian, Wildhorse Equestrian, Coon Creek Cabin, Coon Creek Yellow-post Sites, Mission Springs, Green Spot, and Juniper Springs. And, all hiking trails into the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area remain closed, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) between Whitewater Preserve to Onyx Summit. (Photographs credited to The Desert Sun.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coronado Island Bike Ride In San Diego

Coronado Island, in San Diego, is one of the gems of California. Located in San Diego County, Coronado Island has a long (somewhat scary) bridge that links the island directly to San Diego, should you drive your car. For this trip, Brian and I decided to take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train from the Irvine Train Station to downtown San Diego, hop on the ferry that takes you from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island, and then rent bikes to ride on Coronado Island. We followed the same trip on the return home. This day trip adventure to Coronado Island in San Diego is a great one for the family--adults and kids! This is not a typical "hiking" post, so we broke down the trip information in a little different manner as compared to all our other posts.

How to get to Coronado Island: There are many different ways to get to the Coronado Island and go bike riding and/or explore the beach area. The most common method is obviously driving. However, if you are going down to San Diego on a busy holiday weekend, or for that matter a regular weekend, and seek to avoid the crowded freeways and roads, you can always take the Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner to San Diego. Below is a detailed account of our trip, but you can obviously take your car, or a taxi.

STEP 1-TRAIN: As previously stated, Brian and I took the train on our adventure to Coronado Island in San Diego. More specifically, we took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from the Irvine Train Station in Orange County, to downtown San Diego. Currently, the Pacific Surfliner offers twelve daily round-trip services between San Diego and Los Angeles. For a link to the Pacific Surfliner's scheduled departures, click Here. It is about 1 hour and 50 minutes from Irvine to San Diego on the train.  If you travel from Los Angeles to San Diego on the Pacific Surfliner, it will take about 3 hours.  The costs are reasonable and Amtrak has a good points reward system to earn free travel. NOTE: If you decide to take the train from the San Diego area, the Coaster commuter train service is another option. However, even though the Coaster can get you to San Diego, on the weekends there are not very many trains, leaving you with more limited service options. Additionally, the seats on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner are much more comfortable and spacious than the Coaster.

Brian and I took the 9:30 a.m. train from Irvine, which arrived in downtown San Diego at 11:22 a.m.  We decided to upgrade to business class, for our train trip down to San Diego, which was neat experience.  For the morning business class, there was complementary fresh coffee, apple juice, water, and assorted morning pastries. Business class passengers can read complementary newspapers and have reserved seats, which means you do not run the risk of having to stand up on a packed train on busy holiday weekends. The seats in business class and coach are the same size, and are the equivalent of domestic first class on airlines. Another benefit of Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner is the trains are equipped with free wifi.  

For our return trip, after the day was over, we took the last northbound train from San Diego, which was the 9:00 p.m. train.  During the night business class trip, you receive complementary drinks and a snack pack. We enjoyed a nice relaxing glass of red wine on the way home and the train was on time for both legs of our trip. We arrived in Irvine at 10:45 p.m. and the train was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles at 11:50 p.m. We look forward to our next trip on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train, because we thoroughly enjoyed our great views of the beach along the majority of the trip as well as how easy the trip was.

STEP 2-FERRY: Once we arrived in downtown San Diego, we took the Coronado Ferry from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island. The ferry to Coronado Island operates out of two different points in downtown San Diego, the Broadway Pier and the Convention Center. The closest ferry to the San Diego Train Station is from Broadway Pier. Broadway Pier is located just a couple blocks (no more than a 5 minute walk) from the San Diego Train Station. The Broadway Pier is right next to the USS Midway and is located right on the San Diego waterfront.

The ferry landing is right there next to the actual Broadway Pier building, at the end of the dock area.  The ticket booths have been re-done in a nice formal glass-like structure, as shown in the above picture. You can buy ferry tickets at the ticket booths for both round-trip or one-way ferry trips. The company that runs the Coronado Island Ferry is called Flagship Cruses and Events. Their website is helpful and has all the scheduled departure times, roughly once an hour or once every half hour depending on the day and season you go. Make sure you don't look at the commuter schedule. Check their regular ferry schedule. The commuter ferry doesn't run during holidays, but the regular one does.  The ferry is not very expensive and when we went, it was $4.75 per person one way. You can also take your own bike on the ferry as well as the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner with a bike reservation.

The ferry ride is a short 15 minute ride from downtown San Diego to the Coronado Island dock. As you peel away from the dock, the ferry ride gives you nothing short of a breath-taking view of the San Diego skyline, the USS Midway, the Coronado Bridge, and the coastline. It also feels incredibly patriotic to be riding in the same water as the giant Navy ships in this area. You can also see ocean life if you are lucky as well as the airplanes flying into the San Diego airport. Make sure to waive back at the passing recreational boaters who are very friendly and will likely waive and say hi.

Once you arrive at the Coronado Island dock, there is a "tourist trap" full of shops and places to eat.  The area's architecture is reminiscent of the Hotel Del Coronado, with it's hut-like red roof tops and cape cod facade. Once we arrived, we ate lunch at a fantastic BBQ joint called Lil' Piggy's that we would highly recommend. Their food was fantastic and we recommend the corn fritters! It's a crowded place, but they have "family-style" seating--so be prepared to make new friends! We sat with a nice couple from Apple Valley and shared a great lunch.

The Coronado Ferry Landing is on one side of the island, and the Hotel Del Coronado and our bike rental location were on the complete opposite side of the island. If you take a taxi or other vehicle transportation, the Hotel Del Coronado is only about 5 minutes away. Walking would be about 30-35 minutes. Being avid hikers, we obviously walked to the bike shop, which was not far from the Hotel Del Coronado. We enjoyed seeing the community up close, while on our walk. There are bike shops you can rent from that are closer to the Coronado Ferry Landing, but I saw good reviews and pricing at Cruiser King, which is where we rented our bikes.

STEP 3-BIKE: Once we finished eating, we then walked about a mile and a half to the bike shop, Cruiser King, where we rented bikes. Before you go on this trip, make sure that you call and reserve bikes at the Coronado location! I reserved and paid for the bikes online a couple of days prior to our visit because they can run out of bikes on busy weekends. We rented beach cruisers from Cruiser King. I looked through a bunch of reviews and pricing and found that Cruiser King was the best for us. It was $20 for each bike for the day (10am-6pm), so $40 total, for Brian and I. When we arrived at the shop, they had our bikes ready for us, added a basket on mine, and gave us a lock to lock them up, if we went into a store or something. At the end of the day, we simply returned the bikes and everything was super easy, since I paid for everything online. We would have no problem recommending Cruiser King to others.

Now that you have your bike and you are on Coronado Island, where do you go? What do you do? Once we had our bikes from Cruiser King, we rode about 5 minutes to the Hotel Del Coronado.  When you approach, there is a scenic sidewalk that parallels the beach. The Hotel Del Coronado is located to the left of the bike path and you cannot miss it. Sadly, most of the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Del Coronado is not bike friendly due to the large number of people, however, the Silver Strand State Beach (BIKE ROUTE) is not that far away.  The bike trail is long, flat, and has lanes for bikes coming and going.  It is well marked and you can ride as long as you want, or as short as you want, since the bike path is 24 miles long.  This bike trail/path takes you more on the inside of  Coronado Island, with an ocean view still.  However, most of the view is on the side of the path with the San Diego skyline in the background, the big Coronado bridge, and the Navy shipyard. It's also got some great photo opportunities that provide information on what the state is preserving and how they are protecting certain species of plants and birds.  In this way, it's much like an interpretative trail. We rode about 6 miles in and 6 miles back, then hit Hotel Del Coronado for chips, salsa and drinks. We locked up the bikes at Hotel Del Coronado's bike rack, which is located at the front of the hotel. Then, we walked around the hotel and headed out to their sundeck bar area. It's a beautiful outdoor seating area with a full ocean view.

Shortly after, we returned our bikes to Cruiser King. We walked back to the Coronado Ferry Landing and took the 7:30 p.m. ferry to the Broadway Pier.  We had a little time to kill before boarding the 9 p.m. train home, so we walked the waterfront where the USS Midway is located.  There are lots of cute shops and dining locations along the waterfront--it looks somewhat magical.  Our Amtrak train was waiting for us in the station when we arrived to the San Diego Train Station and we boarded to head home. It was nothing short of a perfect day in San Diego.

Rating: Elevation Gain: Minimal (easy), Distance: several miles of walking and up to multiple miles of bike riding. (Easy to Strenuous, tailor to your needs).

Time to Complete Adventure: All Day.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

OC Zoo Welcomes New Bear


(Orange, Calif.) – The OC Zoo will introduce its newest animal – a young California black bear – at a special event Saturday, July 25The female bear, named Elinor, is believed to be a little more than one year old. Her official welcome will take place at 1:30 p.m. during the OC Zoo’s Zookeeper Appreciation Day event. Elinor was found last year wandering alone in Humboldt County as a young cub and is believed to have been hit by a car. The cub recovered, but would not have survived in the wild. Elinor found a new home at the OC Zoo via the Calif. Department of Fish and Wildlife. The OC Zoo cares for animals native to the desert southwest that cannot be released to the wild due to health or socialization issues.
“This bear will be a great addition to the OC Zoo,” Chairman Todd Spitzer, Orange County Board of Supervisors, Third District, said. “The OC Zoo gives orphaned and injured animals a second chance and helps to educate visitors about wildlife that lives in and around Southern California.” Elinor and the zoo’s other bear, Yo-Yo, will be on exhibit alternate days for the safety of both animals. Introducing young animals in enclosures with older, established animals often carries a risk. 
OC Zoo staff plans to place Elinor on exhibit in the bear enclosure Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to let the new bear get accustomed to her new surroundings. Yo-Yo, will be on exhibit Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Those wishing for a sneak peek at Elinor prior to the official welcoming event may visit the zoo starting July 13. However, OC Zoo animal keepers will be carefully monitoring the new bear and her time in the enclosure will be subject to last minute changes. The OC Zoo is located in Irvine Regional Park, at 1 Irvine Park Road in Orange. The zoo is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and  weekends 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve Hike ~ Julian, CA

For part of our anniversary trip this past year, Brian and I did a hike at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve ("Live long and prosper!"), in San Diego County. A hike at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, outside of Julian, California, is a fantastic hike for the whole family, and afterward, you can enjoy a dinner and some pie in Julian! Volcan Mountain a very charming wilderness area, literally just outside of Julian and it has lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery to observe.

Directions to the trailhead: To get to the Volcan Mountain hike, just outside of Julian, California, you are going to want to head to 1209 Farmer Road Julian, CA 92036.  To drive to Julian, from the Orange County area, you can take the 5 Freeway and go on route 76, up through the mountains to arrive at Julian, this is our favorite route, due to the scenery, but taking the 78 is a faster way to get to Julian, California. You can take alternative routes that can be found through a mapping app or Google maps, to tailor your driving to your location.  Once in Julian, make a left at the only major stop sign in town and take Farmer Road to Wynola Road and turn right, then make a quick left back onto Farmer Road.  There are a couple of other hikes that we've been on in the Julian/San Diego Mountain area.  You can find them on our blog Here.

Description of hike: A hike at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve offers one of the best places to see and hear wildlife in the area, as well as breathtaking views. It is one of the few places, that from the top of the mountain, you can see the ocean and desert at the same time on really clear days. This hike is an out and back hike, that has switchbacks as you ascend to the top of Volcan Mountain which stands at 5,353 feet. We had a really nice breeze on the was back down from our hike! This is a moderately strenuous hike due to the elevation. The hike starts at the main road, but once you hike inward, you lose sight of civilization and enjoy nature's sounds. The main road will take you all the way to the top of the summit.  The main road is a relatively even dirt hiking trail, that was well marked when we visited. Another option is the Five Oaks Trail, which is a side trail that will reconnect with the main road.  The Five Oaks Trail does not independently go to the summit of Volcan Mountain. For a map of the hiking trails in this area, click Here.

Volcan Mountain is an extremely pristine and biologically diverse area to hike in. There are over 30 different types of plant communities have been identified in the Volcan Mountain area, which provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. Preliminary biological studies have recorded 45 different species of mammals, over 150 birds, 36 reptiles, 12 amphibians, and an unknown number of insects and other invertebrates that call this area home. The Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is open sunrise - sunset, 7-days a week, year-round. With an elevation of 5,353 feet, the summit is open on the weekends and major holidays from April thru October.

When we did this hike we saw little patches of snow along the hiking trail near the summit. Snow does fall in this area in the winter time, so you want to make sure you check the weather before you hike here in the winter time. Also summer thunderstorms are known to occur in this area as well, make sure to know the weather conditions before you go hiking on any hike. Camping is not allowed at the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, but you could stay in the town of Julian, or in a designated camping area outside of the town of Julian. Dogs are allowed on the hiking trail, so long as they have a leash. Personally, since we saw several coyotes hunting on our way down, we wouldn't recommend taking a dog.  Still, if you do, keep them on a leash. 

On the hike to the summit of Volcan Mountain, there is an old outpost located near the summit. In the 1920s and 1930s, Volcan Mountain was on the short list of places to house the Hale Telescope, which was ultimately placed on Palomar Mountain. Astronomers would visit this area and stay in the shelter to observe the beautiful night sky. Now, all that is left of the outpost's existence is just a chimney and an old box spring. Seeing the old structure is kind of eerie. On our hike back down from the summit of Volcan Mounatin, we saw two coyotes hunting in this area near the old outpost.  We also saw lots of dear in this area, while on our hike. They like to graze in this area because it's flat plains with lots of Oak trees. On the way back to the trailhead, we also saw a huge Great Horned Owl, that was perched up in a tree. It's silhouette was majestic with the sunset.

Further thoughts: You will want to bring plenty of water for your hike to the summit of Volcan Mountain. There is no water to filter along the hike. Also, parts of the hiking trail are rather exposed, so make sure you wear sun protection. The hike is 5.4 miles if you go all the way to the summit. However, some people only hike to the mid-summit, which makes the hike around 3.2 miles long. There were a number of trail runners utilizing this hiking trail during our visit (probably because they build strength with the incline!). There is also a foundation that dedictaed to the preservation of the Volcan Mountain area that you might want to check out. The Volcan Mountain Foundation has a lot of neat links and information on their website.

After our hike, we went back into the town of Julian and ate at our FAVORITE Italian restaurant, Romano's. They make an amazing pizza--everything is handmade from scratch.  It's not fancy, so come as you are! If you go up to Julian earlier in the day, before your hike, you can also hit the Candied Apple. It has the BEST pies in my opinion--better than Mom's or Julian Pie Company. The Candied Apple has a really good Sour Cream Apple pie, and a crumb cake. It's like you're at your great grandma's cabin in the mountains--so fresh! Volcan Mountain is a good hike to do if you want to explore the town of Julian and enjoy some nature.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 1,253 ft. to the summit (Moderate-Strenuous), Distance: 5.4 Miles Roundtrip to the summit (Moderate-Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 2 - 4 hours.

Monday, July 6, 2015

OC Zoo Celebrates National Zookeeper Appreciation Week Saturday, July 25

OC Zoo Celebrates National Zookeeper Appreciation Week Saturday, July 25
(Orange, Calif.) – Join OC Parks in celebration of National Zookeeper Appreciation Week at the OC Zoo on Saturday, July 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn what it takes to be a zookeeper and get to experience the animals of the OC Zoo up close.

Zookeepers will be giving “keeper chats” throughout the day and delivering special treats and toys to the zoo animals. Guests will enjoy a special talk on “So You Want To Be A Zookeeper” with two star OC Zookeepers at 10:30 a.m.Visitors can learn what a zookeeper’s day entails, see some of the tools of the trade and meet some zoo animals.

Kids activities at the event include making thank you cards for our zookeepers, creating a Junior Zookeeper safari hat, playing zoo inspired games and partaking in a special scavenger hunt where you can enter to win a Zookeeper Shadow Experience.

Children are encouraged to attend the event dressed in zookeeper costume or attire. The first 100 children ages 12 and under to arrive at the event will receive a free train ride ticket for Irvine Park Railroad.

Reservations are not required. Activities at the event are free with paid zoo admission, which is $2 per person, ages 2 and under free.

Come experience the animals of the OC Zoo and celebrate the Zookeepers hard work with OC Parks.

National Zookeeper Appreciation Week Celebration
Date: Saturday, July 25
Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. 
Location: OC Zoo
Address: 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange, CA 92869
Public Contact: (714) 973-6847