Category Archives: California

California spring paddling rocks!

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We have been playing in Coloma, California on the South Fork of the American River for twelve days and have been so impressed with the area and people! We came up for California Canoe & Kayak’s opening day event and had so much fun that we stayed for another full week…

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We have a great camp site at Camp Lotus, which is located right on the river and a great take out point for the upper run, as well as put in site for the middle run and the barking dog play wave. There are 10 full RV sites with power and water and if you get site #7 across from the office you can get wifi at your site!

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California Canoe and Kayak’s opening day event is a fund raiser for American Whitewater and made up of a number of paddling workshops + BBQ/beer and a movie. Hunter and I did the Chili Bar River Running Clinic, with friend Bryon Dorr, and Tim did the play boating clinic. It was a great day for all of us – pushing boundaries and learning new things. Such a great day that we made it back for beer and dinner but ran out of steam and headed back to the campground before the big movie night…

DSCN3190The first week of our stay had above seasonal weather – big bluebird skies, green lush hillsides and temps in the 70’s-80’s (20-25c). The hills and riversides were covered with purple lupin and yellow poppies.

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Overall we paddled 9 days with 4 Chili Bar runs, 2 Coloma to Greenwood runs, 1 Gorge run and 2 play sessions at Barking Dog.

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The spring run off has lead to really wacky water levels. The river is dam controlled and they have “recreational releases” 6 days a week from 9am-12pm where there is guaranteed to be a minimum of 1200-1500 cfs. The levels didn’t get that low once during our stay. I have yet to figure out what causes the ups and downs of the releases – it has definitely made for some interesting river days and no run of the same section has been the same experience.

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Barking Dog play wave is only good from 900-2000 cfs so we kept careful watch of the gauge for those windows. We were shut out most days… To get there from Camp Lotus it is a quick left down the river – about 6 paddle strokes. Getting back when you are done is another story… At lower flows it seems that you can walk up an island that is river right of the play wave. At these higher flows the island is inaccessible so we walked up the river on the far right side until we reached the top of the island and then walked a little more to some rocks where we could get back in our boats and attain up to the campground. You need to be sure to leave some energy for this last slog…

We had some fun (kinda sorta) one day when we were paddling down the C2G section after a Chili Bar run and I looked down in the water next to me to find a snake! Yes… I screamed – no surprise there. The boys figured I had dropped the camera or something. After regrouping I realized I should at least take a picture to show them. The snake seemed to be following me in the current so as both the snake and I caught up with Tim and Hunter I pointed him out. It’s a given that Tim picked him up to check him out and Hunter was equally fascinated. We let him hang out on Tim’s boat for a while to warm up and then ferried him over to shore to some nice sunny grass.

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The Chili Bar run was our favourite out of the 3 river sections around Coloma. We paddled it 4 times at various levels, ranging from a low of 1800 to a high of 4200. While it was big water it wasn’t overly pushy and has a nice gradient so none of the rapids are super steep and creek like. There were a few play waves that were guaranteed to get Tim smiling and lots of inconsequential holes and rocks for Hunter to boof.

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Our last three days of paddling were with the Holcombe family and some great local folks. It was fun to have another family to paddle with and even better to do it on a river where Hunter and Abby were pretty well free to goof around and paddle their own lines without much concern for us parents. They are both becoming really strong paddlers and we are definitely looking forward to catching some more river time with them over the next few weeks.

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Coloma, and the South Fork of the American River, are an unexpected GEM and we definitely recommend a stop here for any paddlers. Our sense is that it is a zoo in the summer time so spring would probably be best – higher flows and less people.

Folsom Prison Blues

folsom gate familyFolsom State Prison is located in Represa, California – which interestingly doesn’t really show up on the map. The prison is it’s own town with it’s own postal code, located in what was once a large green space in the middle of nowhere, but is now the town of Folsom.

IMG_3867Folsom State Prison opened in 1880 and is the second oldest prison in California, after San Quentin. It was one of America’s first maximum security prisons but now holds mostly medium security folk.

The main gate to the prison property is just after you come through an older residential section of Folsom. Once you drive through the gate you are surrounded by lush green fields and lots of woodlands – totally not what I expected for a prison grounds. There are actually 3 prisons now on site – the original Folsom State Prison, Folsom State Prison 2 (now called Sacramento State Prison) and a Women’s facility. Total capacity of all of them put together is about 7000 inmates.

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We weren’t quite sure what to think when we pulled into the parking lot right below the prison wall and then walked towards the gates and read the “visitors” sign.

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We came to check out the Folsom Prison Museum, which looked like a non-traditional learning experience for our law enforcement focused kid. Although small in stature and foot print the museum was jam packed with interesting displays and facts.

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In the middle of the prison land, in between the two prisons, sits a small town with residential streets and houses. For a long period of time prison staff were required to live on site. Many still do but more to take advantage of lower cost rents. The school bus even comes and goes each day for the local kids. This felt as weird as the deer that we saw in the fields from the parking lot – the scenes just didn’t seem to fit with a maximum security prison!

Folsom Prison was originally designed to hold inmates serving long sentences, habitual criminals and incorrigibles, which led to them getting a reputation for having a violent and bloody beginning.

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Interesting factoid – a new hanging rope was used for every hanging as they need to take into consideration the individuals height and weight to minimize swing, slack and ensure a quick death.

The variety of things that prisoners were able to turn into weapons is really impressive while also leaving you incredibly curious as to where they get pieces of metal in their day to day lives. There also seems to be an art to the smuggling of things into prison up your butt – ouch!

Folsom has a number of industries under the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) program, which includes administration, a Braille enterprise, a license plate factory where the inmates have been making 100% of the State of California license plates since before the 1930s, maintenance, metal fabrication, a printing plant, and a sign shop.

My question is where does an inmate get 250,000 toothpicks from??? Talk about impressive!

Johnny Cash made FSP widely known to the outside world through his song “Folsom Prison Blues” (1956), which narrated a fictional account of an outlaw’s incarceration, and the two live concerts he performed at FSP.

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Overall it was a pretty cool place to visit and we learned a lot of interesting tidbits…

 

Secret caves at Cabrillo National Monument

 

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I have been trying to get to Cabrillo National Monument for the last two years but couldn’t interest the boys. After much internet research, I finally found a compelling reason – a secret cave! We did some research and found a day with extra low tide at a reasonable hour and made the plan to drive the hour down to check things out…

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We climbed down from the upper level parking lot and then headed north rather than south along the coast line in search of the cave.

IMG_3746Thanks to the very detailed instructions from www.Californiathroughmylens.com we knew not to get suckered in by the first cave we saw but to continue on in search of a tiny slot on the far side of a cove…

IMG_3754The cove on the outside of the cave is pretty cool and we got to see a number of seals frolicking around.

Once you go through the slot you climb down into an opening that has a large skylight above and two entry/exit paths for the water. At low enough tide, and with a willingness to get a little wet, you can wander through the northern opening to check out a whole pod of seals out sunning themselves on a large flat rock.

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We made the most of the visit and went to check out the southern area of sea cliffs and tidal pools.

With all the rocks laying around we had an inukshuk building contest (math, physics, architecture…???) as this was a school day.

We had fun attempting to catch the rock crabs that were hiding in the horizontal slots in the rocks – they move fast!

No day at the beach is complete without playing with the Sea Anenomes… glad we got outside and explore this national monument. Totally worth the drive from North County San Diego.

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San Luis Rey Mission

IMG_3796San Luis Rey Mission was founded in 1798 and is a National Historic Landmark located in Oceanside, California. It is a few blocks off the San Luis Rey bike path so we headed out for a family ride (30km round trip) to check it out… The history of the San Luis Rey area reflects five periods of occupation: Luiseño Indian, Spanish Mission, Mexican Secularization, American Military, and Twentieth Century Restoration.

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The mission was established by Spain as a way to ward of the threat of Russian expansion. Spain had learned that land could be claimed inexpensively by establishing a mission and sending dedicated padres, a handful of soldiers and a few supplies.

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With a shortage of Spaniards in the New World, Spain decided to colonize with the indigenous people. The Franciscans were chosen not only to preach to the Indians, but to teach them new skills so they could become productive citizens for Spain. Between 1798 and 1832 the mission became home to approximately three thousand Indians. In their name and as a result of their labor, the mission cared for over 50,000 head of livestock. Large sections of the mission’s lands were brought under cultivation. Grapes, oranges, olives, wheat, and corn were some of the crops produced. Fields were irrigated by water channeled from the river just north of the mission. The mission was self-sustaining; its buildings were constructed of local materials, such as adobe, fired clay bricks, and wooden timbers. By 1830, the mission was the largest building in California.

After Mexico won the war with Spain in 1821 each mission was given 10 years to fully educate the indians and turn over the missions and land to them. This did not end up happening at San Luis Rey and by 1833 the administrators had actually gathered more land.

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From 1847-1857 the mission was used as an operational base by US military. In 1850 California became part of the United States and the Catholic Bishop in California petitioned for the return of the mission. Unfortunately after it became vacated by the military it sat vacant until 1892.

In 1892 a group of Franciscans from Mexico sought refuge in California and asked the Bishop for a site to move their noviate. They were assigned to San Luis Rey under the guidance of Friar O’Keefe. From 1892-1912, Fr. O’Keefe repaired the church and rebuilt the permanent living quarters on the foundations of the old mission (where the museum sits today). Restoration has continued throughout the years since Fr. O’Keefe’s death. Included in this has been the partial rebuilding of the quadrangle in 1949 for a Franciscan college which serves today as a Retreat Center. During the 1950’s and 60’s the Friars uncovered the soldier’s barracks and the lavanderia from layers of dirt accumulated over the years. In 1984 a restoration effort to stabilize and preserve the exterior of the church building was completed. Conservation of painting and sculptures in the museum collection is an ongoing process, and archaeological investigations continue to unearth the past.

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In search of dirt in Southern California…

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We have spent most of the last two months in North County San Diego at the beach, which is a wonderful place to be. While most of our time has been spent walking and surfing, we have been biking for variety.

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Most of our biking has looked like this – some nice ocean views but a lot of cars and a lot of pavement…. While Oceanside and Carlsbad are both bike friendly cities, there are still a lot of people out driving and not paying attention, which makes this type of biking a tad less relaxing!

IMG_3767While Hunter was out playing Airsoft last weekend Tim and I went in search of dirt and found it at Daley Ranch, a city owned natural area in Escondido.

The entry to the park is a paved road that immediately has you headed up and over a peak and then down into a valley. It’s a bit of a grind to start the ride but at least you get a downhill coast to rest and then the same at the end of the ride.

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We took Ranch House (paved road) up and into the valley, then swung left onto Boulder Loop and hit sandy dirt. This was quite the slog up to the top of the ridge where we were then rewarded with a nice ridge ride along Cougar Ridge. We took a right onto Englemann Oak with the plan on heading back to the valley floor via wooden springs but somehow we missed the trail. That meant a fabulous downhill on the rest of Englemann Oak until we hit Bobcat, which was our first clue that we had missed our turn!

We enjoyed the single track of Bobcat and then had the displeasure of a hike-a-bike up a fairly scramble Cougar Ridge until we hit the top of the ridge again. From there it was a full back track of our earlier ride.

Other than venturing out in the heat of the day (24c) which made the hills quite challenging, it was great to get back onto some dirt!

carlsbad trail mapWith the kid away again today we thought we would try to find some dirt closer to home… We are camping just on the north side of Buena Vista Lagoon (top of the map) so were intrigued with some of the green squiggles on the City of Carlsbad bike trail map.

Hospital Grove Park turned out to be a small set of wooded trails tucked into a corner of land that is a confluence of residential, commercial and large roads in a ravine. We entered off of Jefferson Road which is the lowest elevation point. We road a number of switch backs up and down and enjoyed the wandering along with a few groups of kids out hiking. Unfortunately not all of the trails are connected and the trail section is split down the middle by a major road so riding the whole system was challenging and seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of return.

We headed back out to the ocean for a ride down the Pacific Coast Highway to check out the waves and the beaches before heading back home.

 

APB – Cops do math & physics at work!!!

 

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As part of the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering we spent an amazing 2 hours in a free workshop put on by the Escondido Police Department. The audience was a mix of homeschool families and high school students and it was standing room only…

IMG_3685The presentation was broken into two one hour sections – Traffic Accident Investigation and Forensics. Both areas were engaging and clearly demonstrated how math and science are used on an every day basis within the police force.

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We learned about all of the tools that the Collision Investigation Unit use – both high tech and low tech to help decode and deconstruct the scene of an accident so they can then replicate it, both to determine cause and to demonstrate the information to others (i.e. in a court room).

We learned how to calculate velocity and what the ideal safe speed is for a car driving at night based upon visibility provided with high beams and human response times (hint… it’s around 28-30 mph).

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We learned about how kinetic energy logic is used to measure the velocity of a vehicle in an accident (what goes in to a force comes out of the force with equal energy – like the balls).

And we learned how you can use math and physics to determine angle and velocity of the vehicles in a crash based upon the angles of momentum and the size of crash damage. I was blown away with how effectively the officers conveyed the information and how they managed to connect it so simply and clearly with the kids in the room!

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The Robbery/Homicide team came in and ran a mock investigation of an incident with blood spatter to determine who’s story was correct between two complainants. It was a little slower paced because the group was so large and they had kids doing some of the work but there were lots of good nuggets of information.

The BEST part of the whole 2 hours was the recommendation that students get a BACHELOR’S DEGREE if they want to become police officers. It was a slam dunk for Hunter that he now needed to shift his goal from college to university – whew… THANK YOU ESCONDIDO POLICE DEPARTMENT!

Brickmania 2016 – all things military lego

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Brickmania is a weekend long event that is held in different locations across the USA a few times a year, and brings together lego military enthusiasts. It is definitely an eclectic group of very passionate people. Hunter was thrilled to discover that one of the sites this year was Anaheim, which is only an hour away from Oceanside, our southern California base.

Tim classified this as a “school field trip” and conveniently opted out so Hunter and I hit the road and spent the day together exploring all things military lego. If we had been really super serious about it we would have purchased a weekend pass which allowed you to participate in various group “builds” and challenges.

There were a number of very impressive models – the center piece being a replica of the USS Missouri that a college professor started with his class to help them learn about the ship building process. The level of intricacy and detail orientation definitely reflects the amount of time invested.

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One of the many group events was a chess tournament using lego war characters.

The builders (ranging from age 6 to70) compete for a number of awards that recognize the level of complexity and creativity. Some are replicas of actual battle scenes or buildings while others are builder interpretations of a battle or location. Lots of non-standard pieces and creative interpretations happening!

IMG_3602The other big appeal of attending was the ability to purchase military lego mini figures that are really expensive online due to shipping costs. These are all high quality custom made pieces but have lower volume production runs than official lego pieces so have about a 30-40% price premium.

IMG_3603We rounded out our adventure with a mom/kid lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, complete with fancy drinks and all. It’s always great to spend the day together!

Oceanside Night Market – National Public Safety Week

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The City of Oceanside has both a weekly farmers market and a weekly food/fun market – both of which happen on the main drag on Thursdays. Hunter and I love food carts and food stands of any kind so we try to catch the market a few times when we are in town. It was a huge bonus when our first Thursday in town was also Public Safety Night at the night market – obviously we had to go!

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As part of National Public Safety Week, communities across the USA were creating events to connect with and educate the public about what they do. Both the Oceanside Police and Oceanside Fire Departments had a large presence, which was great for kids young and old!

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The police had a few cars, their boat, their SWAT truck and their mobile command centre out. Hunter was very disappointed to learn that you have to be 16 to participate in their Explorer Program where you get to train as a junior officer. Almost all of the police vehicles were open and could be checked out from all angles and the officers were very open to answer a wide variety of questions from a curious young boy…

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Oceanside Fire and EMS were easy to find thanks to their ladder truck having the ladder fully extended – Wow, that is big! Firetrucks are somewhat old hat to us from all our travels. We’ve found that firemen are typically super friendly and welcoming about letting Hunter explore their trucks and learn about their profession.

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A big thanks to all of the Oceanside Public Safety Staff – being out and approachable sure helps inspire and motivate kids, both to trust them and to consider the roles as a future career.

San Diego Sheriff’s Museum – what a gem!

IMG_2935Hunter and I had a “downtown day” and hit Old Town San Diego as well as caught a few cultural events. The best unexpected gem was the San Diego Sheriff’s Museum, which is just on the south eastern edge of Old Town.

We started by wandering around the State Historic Park and saw the first Court House and accompanying holding cell, both which were established back in 1850. We learned that Sheriff’s are elected while Police Chief’s are appointed and that back in 1850 you could only run for one term and it lasted one year. Now they are 4 year terms and there is no cap on the number of times you can be re-elected.

IMG_2958We then headed down the road to explore the Sheriff’s Museum, which covers regional law enforcement from 1850 to today. In addition to great exhibits, the museum is staffed by former Sheriff staff and they do a great job of bringing the museum to life for kids of all ages! Note: The newly elected Sheriff used to get to choose the colour of their cars – hence the “dusty rose” from the 1960’s and the green taxi car’s from the 1980’s & 90’s. All cars are now mandated to be black and white to be more easily recognizable.

First stop was the gun room (aka the historic arsenal) where we learned all about a broad variety of weapons (peaceable and otherwise) and all of their various applications.

Next we experienced life from a criminal’s perspective and had to charm our way out of prison – good thing we are cute and polite!

We learned that in San Diego County the Sheriff staff wear their bullet proof vests under their uniforms for an entire shift – that makes for one long, hot sticky day! We also got to check out their various police vehicles, from off road bikes, heavy traffic motorcycles through to their patrol cars.

IMG_2957We also got to work through a crime scene and think about clues.

IMG_2960As Hunter is currently fascinated with Law Enforcement, and the RCMP in particular, this was a great find. We learned about all of the jurisdictional nuances between municipal, highway, county, state and federal law enforcement in the USA and had fun working to compare it all to what we have in Canada.

“Best Day Ever”…

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I didn’t think that we could top go-kart racing but…. I was so very very wrong. Hunter has been wanting to play airsoft for the last year, which is really just an extension of his desire to find a community that will have complex nerf wars and  paintball games. I would like to be optimistic and say that this is all about “the art of war” but that just isn’t the case.

He is equally split between the strategy of the battle and the pure joy of running around (or squirming or crawling etc.) while armed and trying to hit someone else. I have NO idea where this joy came from but it’s definitely there. The one upside is that they spend 4-6 hours running around outside, which makes me happy.

San Diego has a very active homeschool group and there is a “Teen Activity Group” within the larger group. We were able to connect in with them and join in with a few boys to play Airsoft at Mr. Paintball in Escondido, CA. One of the main organizing boys was amazingly supportive and took Hunter under his wing, sharing some of his arsenal and generally helping him understand how things worked.

IMG_7083It was such an amazing experience that Hunter went again the following weekend and paid the $25 entry fee from his own savings. He is now busy plotting how to save up enough money to play every weekend when we are back in February and March!