Saturday, August 30, 2014

Traveling in Southern California

Traveling in Southern California means many things to many people. This is not a travel guide. This is how to survive the freeway system and information on how to calculate distances. The freeway system scares many people. Heck, it terrifies some Southern California natives. What if I get stuck in traffic? What you see on TV is lines of cars going nowhere. Yes, that happens but it is not as bad as the media would have you believe. What do you need to know?
The freeways in Southern California appear to cross each other every few miles. It is easy to get confused. Do I want to go south or north when the freeway looks like it is heading east? If you are geographically challenged this can be a problem. An easy trick to remember, freeways are numbered. Even numbered freeways (Interstate 210, Interstate 10, and Route 60) are always east and west. Odd numbered freeways (Interstate 15, Interstate 5, and Route 71) are north and south. If you know your destination and your map gives you the direction, even if the freeway looks like it is going in the wrong direction, you will be all right. If you missed the 91 freeway and got on the 22 freeway instead, do not worry. Both of them will cross the 57 freeway.
Travel in Southern California is measured in time, not distance. If you ask anyone how far something is, they will give you a time frame. Miles are inconsequential and mean absolutely nothing. A four-mile trip could be 4 minutes or 20 depending on the area and traffic. If there is an accident, all bets are off. While the distance from Riverside, CA to Palm Springs, CA, is 41 miles, it is actually an hour.
You wake up in Palm Springs, CA, and know that it is going to be 110 degrees. You think that it would be better to enjoy the day in a cooler spot. It is going to be 80 degrees in Oceanside, CA and you really want to watch the sun set over the ocean.
Given what you know, it will be an easy drive. It is 98 miles, which is an easy 2-hour trip. Oceanside is west and south of Palm Springs. Take Interstate 10 and go west. Merge onto Interstate 15 and head south. Take CA-76 west towards Pala/Oceanside and you are there.
In spite of its reputation, traveling in Southern California is not scary. Having an estimated time and a working knowledge of the freeway system takes away the confusion. Southern California is a great place to visit. It is possible to start out in the desert, make a trip to the mountains, enjoy the pines, and end up at the beach to roast marshmallows.
Before you leave, you may want to check the Sig-Alert maps covering all of Southern California and now, most of the major cities in the United States. If there is an incident, you will be able to plan a route that avoids the problem. Sig-Alerts have been around a very long time. According to the California Department of Transportation, Sig-Alerts are unique to Southern California." In the 1940's the LAPD notified a local radio reporter, Lyod Sigmon, of bad accidents on city streets. Mr. Sigmon then notified his audience and they became known as Sig-Alerts. Mr. Sigmon created an electronic system that allowed authorities to alert the media of incidents. This system still notifies the media of any traffic incident that will tie up two or more lanes of a freeway for two or more hours.

Reposted from a Helium article created on July 10, 2009.   

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wildfires in Southern California

When you grow up in Southern California, you develop almost a cavalier attitude about wildfires. You learn through experience they are going to happen. Every year you hope the hills and the mountains will escape fire season. However, you also know the Santa Ana winds will bring out the bad people. You then make a choice. Either you live in the hills or mountains or you pick the flat land. People new to the area fall in love with the mountains without understanding there are dangers and it is a roll of the dice.

In the 1950's, not only were there prescribed burns but the clouds were seeded to produce rain. After several mishaps (substitute disaster), the cloud seeding stopped and the burns were less frequent. That means like most fires, the undergrowth can be up to 30 years old. That's a lot of fuel. Since the area is not prone to thunderstorms in the summer, it is a given many of the fires are arson. With the winds, downed power lines start some of the fires. Power tools create sparks and start fires and campers start a few. Regardless of the reasons, wildfires are part of daily life.

The Los Angeles Basin and the surrounding areas vary in elevation. From Riverside, it is possible to see the smoke from the fires as far away as the San Fernando Valley. Depending on wind direction, ashes from the fires travel everywhere. There have been many times when the entire valley was surrounded by fire. Even if you are not in the direct line of the fire, the ash and smoke makes it hazardous.

Southern California continues to grow and many developers have moved further into the hillside, creating expensive homes. These homes have great views but as callous as it sounds, it is hard to feel sorry for the people who believe their homes will be safe. If you live in the hills, you will be guaranteed at least one scary fire. Southern California has exceptional firefighters who are well trained and dedicated. Because they are so good at what they do, they have saved countless lives and homes. It is sad when a home burns to the ground but it minuscule to the numbers they have saved. The news will focus on the one home, showing it repeatedly without giving our firefighters credit for the other 20 on the block still standing. Kudos to our firefighters!

People who live on the flat land are not always safe when the wind is blowing embers but there is generally less fuel and spot fires are easier to contain. Our family is fortunate no lives have been lost but several family members have lost homes. Two of them opted to move to the flat land, one moved to another mountain community and lost the second home there. It is always going to be the roll of the dice. Living in the Southern California hills and mountains with the Santa Ana winds is the perfect storm. Wildfires are a way of life.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What to do if you run out of things to do in Palm Springs

If you run out of things to do in Palm Springs, CA, there are many places close by to amuse and amaze. All these side trips are within an hour drive from downtown.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is just north of the town. If you come in on Hwy 111, you have to pass it on your way to downtown. It takes 15 minutes to travel to the 10,834-foot peak of Mt. San Jacinto. At the top are 54 miles of hiking trails. Even if you are not a hiker, just the trip to the top is an adventure. No matter how hot the valley is the temperature at the top 20 to 30 degrees cooler. The rotating tramcars have been providing visitors with breathtaking views 50 miles in all directions. The two trams hold 80 people and are the world's largest rotating cars. The tram was completed in 1963.

On Interstate 10 just before the turn off on Hwy 111 to Palm Springs, there is shopping galore. The Desert Hills Premium Outlet boasts such stores as Prada, Dior, Boss, Gucci and Giorgio Armani. If that’s not enough, the Cabazon Outlets is right next door. It is not hard to miss with the MorongoCasino right down the road.

However, overshadowed by the Malls and the Casino is the Wheel Inn. The Wheel Inn is a slice of Americana that unfortunately has closed. The food was wholesome and the restaurant itself was a museum. Claude Bell who ran the Wheel Inn built two dinosaurs on the property. Dinny is probably the largest dinosaur in America. His belly holds a gift shop. Dinny is an Apatosaurus. Mr. Bell passed away before the second dinosaur was completed. It is a Tyrannosaurus. The dinosaurs have appeared in commercials and the film "Pee Wee's Big Adventure". If you arrange your vehicle just right, you can make it appear the tyrannosaurus is attacking your car. I am sad it's gone because we used to drive out there on weekends just to have breakfast. I hope they'll bring it back. 

The drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in the old days was a long and thirsty drive. There were no fast food places to get a drink and people often stopped at Hadley's Fruit Orchards. It was the place to slack their thirst with a date shake. It is still the place to stop for the shake. For those who think using date crystals to make shakes is just not right, they offer a free sample. I guarantee you will like it. We certainly do.  

As you travel along Interstate 10, you will see giant windmills rising from the ground. They start around Cabazon and run well past Whitewater. They look like something out of a SciFi movie and used to creep me out as a young adult. There used to be tours but there are none at the present. 

Leaving Palm Springs and heading south on Hwy 111, follow the highway to Shield's Date Garden. Mr. Shields started the date garden in 1924. He would give educational talks about dates to his visitors. He added a slide show to his lecture about date culture and recorded it on a 15-minute film. The film called, "Romance and Sex Life of the Date" is shown in the shop. He invented the date crystals used in date shakes and cooking. They sell many date products in the store, including some of the date varieties he cultivated. It is worth a stop just to see the film and the man who loved dates.

Continuing south on Hwy 111, is the town of Indio and the gateway to the Salton Sea. In December, they kick off the holiday season with the Indio International Tamale Festival. Admission is free and it is a county fair with a tamale flavor. They have a tamale cook-off and were recently ranked in the top 10 of "All-American Food Festivals by the Food Network. They won two Guinness World Records. In 1999, they won for the largest tamale. It was one foot in diameter and 40 feet long. In 2000, they won for the World's Largest Tamale Festival with 120,000 visitors.

It may be possible to run out of things to do in Palm Springs. If that happens, try out one of these side trips. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology

To understand why the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology (WCAP) is located in the rolling hills behind Hemet, CA, it is important to look at the past. The area is rich in history and starts with the Soboba Band of Lusieno Indians who first inhabited the area. The Domenigoni family, who were some of the first settlers, arrived in the area in the 1880's. For more than 100 years, the family farmed the area. However, even before that, the valley was populated with animals from the ice age. Saber tooth tigers, mastodons, giant sloths and many others roamed what is now Diamond Valley Lake.

When the Metropolitan Water District started their search for a new reservoir, they settled on the Domenigoni Valley. However, when scouting the area they found more than 90 sites that contained Indian artifacts and ice age fossils. This became the most interesting archaeological and paleontological dig ever. It came down to a basic cooperation between giant earth-movers and people with small brushes. As they unearthed artifacts, the earth-movers shifted to other areas giving the archaeologists and paleontologist’s time to unearth, preserve, catalog and move the specimens.

From the excavation, they removed more than 1,000,000 specimens. The WCAP opened as not only a museum but also a learning center. Half of the WCAP is dedicated to research labs and curation facilities. Scientists and researchers have the ability to advance their learning with state-of-the-art, climate-controlled labs. The labs are complete with 12 foot roll-up doors, equipment for heavy lifting, floor drains and water outlets. With this equipment, they are able to study the specimens. The WCAP is the repository for all the material excavated from Diamond Valley Lake. WCAP welcomes scholars, researchers, curatorial staff and cultural groups to study the collection.

The Museum is kid-friendly but appeals to adults as well. You can view two short movies that are entertaining and informative. One explains the animals in the museum and the people who lived there and the other is about the excavation. The screen wraps around more than half of the room and holds the attention of even the smallest of children.

Once in the display area, there are many things to do. You can make your own fossil. There is a place to unearth fossils using brushes. Built into the floor is a re-creation of the burial site of "Little Stevie", a juvenile mastodon. "Max" is the largest mastodon even found in the western United States. "Xena" is a 16,000-year-old mammoth and the giant sloth is called "Sammy". There are displays of the excavation and how all that earth was moved.

Many schools come to the WCAP for field trips. They provide additional programs for the children. In a classroom like setting, the children are given bags of matrix containing teeth, shells and other small fossils. They pour the mix into screens and sort the fossils. Given tweezers, the children are instructed not to touch the fossils. They also have a magnifying glass to examine them more closely. Each is given a guide to match the specimens. These are real fossils and the children feel empowered that they are allowed to work with something so special.

The museum also has on-going learning programs. For children 6 to 9 years old, they have a Super Science program. Children 11 to 15 years old can work in a simulated dig site in the Adventures in Archaeology program. There are programs for people 15 years or older, including Basic Forensic Anthropology. Scouts are welcomed to earn badges working with the education staff. WCAP has something for everyone.

As you leave the WCAP Campus, you might want to cool off at the Aquatic Center. It is directly across the street. It has a heated outdoor pool. There is a zero depth entry with fountain sprayers for the smaller children and a water slide for those more adventurous.

Before leaving the area, drive west to Winchester Road and go south to the entrance to the "Clayton A. Record Jr." Viewpoint. It overlooks the Diamond Valley Lake with views of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest mountain peaks. After visiting the museum, try to imagine the people and the animals that lived there. There is no admission cost. There is a paved walkway to the top but it still is quite a climb for elderly folks and young children.

The Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology reminds us that we have a very rich history and it's just a fun place to visit. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Birthday party venues in the Temecula, California area

Temecula, known for its wine country and historic downtown, also has an amazing array of birthday party venues for kids.

Temecula Children’s Museum, also known as Pennypickle’s Workshop

The Temecula Children’s Museum is a fun-filled activity on any day but for a birthday, it is a special treat. They have several birthday packages. The least expensive is $100.00 for 8 kids and 2 adults. That includes admission to the museum, invitations, a gift for the birthday child and one hour reserved in the outdoor picnic area. Kids love exploring Professor Pennypickle’s workshop and on a personal note, adults love it too. The museum is located at 42081 Main Street, Old Town Temecula, CA 92590/

This is a birthday party spectacular for the younger crowd. This is an indoor playground especially designed for children from one to six years. Created to provide a safe, kid-friendly environment, it features climbers, slides, tunnels and a dress-up area. Food and drinks are the responsibility of the parents. There are three birthday packages available, each featuring different games but the children are allowed at least 1 ½ hours of play in all the structures. All children must wear socks. Child’s Place is located at 28860 Old Town Front St, Temecula, CA 92590.

This is one of the most interesting birthday venues. Located at 26015 Jefferson Ave, Ste D, Murrieta,  it is a 10,000 square foot indoor playground. Kids can play air hockey, ping pong and shuffleboard. There is a karaoke stage and video arcades. There is a toddler area. There are the all-important jumpers with slides and rock-climbing. They are quick to point out they have Direct TV and so no one will miss the games while the kids play in a secure environment.

The staff will supervise your guests and do the entire cleanup. Their prices start with the “Penny Wise” package for $99.00. It price includes jumping for an hour and 30 minutes in the party room. Bring the cake. Everything else is included

In Murrieta, Chuck-E-Cheese is a place kids love and the freedom that it allows. They can go from game to game, winning tickets, all within the eyesight of their parents. Prices range from $14.00 to $19.00 per child, which includes pizza, drinks and tokens. The party area is reserved for 90-minutes and the birthday child gets a present, a balloon and a birthday show. The Chuck-E-Cheese is located at 25110 Hancock Avenue #101-106, Murrieta, CA 92562


Just down the street from Chuck-E-Cheese is McDonald’s. The birthday package has been around for decades. It is a great way to save money with a party that children will enjoy. There is a play area outside.  McDonald’s is located at 29888 Los Alamos Road, Murrieta, CA 92562.

Not just for birthdays, this is also a family fun day for all ages. Birthdays packages vary but for $8.99 a person, the party area is available for 1 ½ hours. The package includes invitations, balloons, party supplies and 15 tokens per child. Also included are 2 slices of pizza, unlimited drinks and a birthday gift. If that's not enough, party-goers can also add go-karts, miniature golf, bumper boats, rock wall, teacups and the train. Mulligan’s also has laser tag and batting cages for future baseball stars. Note here: we spend a lot of time at the batting cages. Bring your own helmet and bat or rent them there. Mulligan’s is located at 24950 Madison Ave. Murrieta, CA 92562.

Temecula with its antique stores, fine dining, and superior wine can also boast about the fantastic birthday party venues that are guaranteed to delight any youngster.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Helium is closing its doors

I started writing for Helium in 2009. It was a fun place and I met a lot of encouraging people. Over the years it changed and became less user friendly. We recently got a notice that the site would be shutting down and it we wanted, we could move our articles to other sites as we will lose them at the end of the year.

Now, there is a mad scramble to copy and save what we've written. Many of my articles are about camping, grand-parenting, and California. I am in the process of moving them to the blogs I currently have. Some won't be copied but some of them are actually good.

The California articles will be updated because there is information to share that has not already been covered. At least I won't have to think of new posts for awhile.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mono Lake, not what you expect

Mono Lake is not the place to find ski boats or water sports. It is a unique body of water sitting at the base of Yosemite National Park. To the north is the historic ghost town of Bodie and to the south, the high desert town of Bishop, the gateway to Mammoth Lakes.

Mono Lake is unique because it is one of North America's oldest lakes. It has no outlet so as water runs into it; the mineral content raises creating alkaline water. It is too alkaline for fish to survive but supports it own ecosystem for migrating birds. It also has a population of brine shrimp unequaled by no other body of water. It is an active volcanic area with hot springs and steam vents. While all that is impressive, its claim to fame is the tufa. 

Tufa is a Latin word for porous rock. Tufa is formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate rich lake water. As the springs bubble up, it creates deposits that grow upward under water. The lake level has dropped significantly since 1941 when the rivers that feed the lake were diverted for drinking water in Southern California. As the water receded, the tufa was it was exposed leaving towering columns of rock. It has been mandated that the water level of the lake be restored to the level it was in 1951. This will take time as a quick influx of water will change the chemical consistency of the lake, putting the brine shrimp, the alkali fly population and the migratory birds in danger of extinction.

There is a Visitor's Center in the town of Lee Vining. It not only describes the tufa but explains the history of the lake and the species that inhabit it. The museum is free. The lake is managed by the National Park Service and they are very willing to answer any and all questions. There is also a separate site on the south side of the lake known as South Tufa. Here visitors are allowed to walk through the tufa beds. It is a loop trail most people can navigate easily although it is not wheel chair accessible. However, there is a boardwalk reaching  almost to the shore so no one is denied a close-up view of the tufa itself.

Swimming is allowed in the lake at designated beaches. The National Park Service states swimming in the lake “offers a delightfully buoyant swimming experience”. The high salt concentration makes it almost to sink. They do point out that because of the alkaline content, it is important to keep it out of your eyes.

Camping is not permitted at the lake but there are many campgrounds in the general area. There are several picnic areas and restrooms around the lake itself. Each provides a spectacular view of the lake and the volcanic activity. The island in the center of the lake is closed to the public from April 1st through August 1st to protect the seagulls nesting there. Some boating is allowed and permits must be obtained at the Visitor Center.

Visitors come from around the world to visit this unique lake. The lake is flanked by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada's to the west. The views are spectacular from any direction. Mono Lake should not be missed. It is an impressive demonstration of nature at its best.

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