Saturday, February 21, 2009

Exploring San Bernardino National Forest

“Let’s leave in an hour.” I love hearing those words after Ed drains the last bit of his morning coffee from a favorite Pier 1 mug.

We would explore the area around Aguanga, California in our Toyota Corolla. Our first stop happened to be the Jojoba Hills RV Resort Office for a regional map and recommendations for a Saturday drive. Go right on Hwy 79 S to Temecula or turn left onto Hwy 371 to Anza. Neither would be disappointing assured the ladies in the Office. We took a left.

We had not traveled far on Hwy 371 when we saw the sign for the Cahuilla Casino. The casino greeter offered us free memberships in the Players Club and $15 each in playing credits on the slots. This sounded like a good deal for entertainment so we both handed over our driver’s licenses as ID. I activated my card on a nickel slot machine betting the max. The red, white and blue bars and sevens rotated crossing the payout line sometimes giving me a 15-cent win, sometimes rewarding me with a big win of 75-cents. I am a recreational gambler so these small gains thrilled me. I pulled myself away from the machine when my credits hit bottom, 15-cents. Ed refused to initiate his Players Card, promising me that he would let me use his $15 when he brings me back some other day for a brief visit. The free Coke was all Ed needed to be content.

In the heart of Anza, we found a Swap Meet at the Community Center. For my friends back in Pittsburgh, this translates to Flea Market. I searched all the tables for a gnome like the Travelocity one to carry with us and photograph. And, I hoped to find a rock hammer to crack open some of the big rocks I collected in the Arizona desert. I had no luck finding these treasures. Ed went on a search for a knife for us to carry in our backpack. With little negotiation, he paid $5 for a Buck knife. I tasted my first kumquat at a farmer’s stand; I’ll stick to my favorite fruits – oranges and grapefruits, thanks. Then, the farmer offered me a box of brussel sprouts – the whole box for $5. At Kroger, the value would be closer to $20 for the quantity. We had a deal and I took cash from Ed’s money clip and the farmer did not have to pack up that extra box of vegetables in his van.

For lunch, we ate at a picnic table in a church yard. Fresh grapefruit, nuts & raisins trail mix, sandwiches and chunks of cheddar cheese satisfied our appetite. The distant mountains made a picture perfect view from our seat.

As our ride continued on Highway 371, mountains no longer seemed far away. The elevation increased. The road got curvy. Pull-offs gave way for slow moving vehicles and photo opportunities. Patches of white snow glistened on the steep mountains. We entered the San Bernardino National Forest.

At a crossroads of Highway 371 and Highway 74, we turned west on Highway 74 toward Idyllwild. Expansive quarter horse ranches spanned both sides of the road. We immediately thought of our equestrian expert daughter Suzie at the same time and nodded in understanding. “Suzie,” we both said.

Ranch land gave way to park trails. We stopped at one where snow still lay crusted on the ground. Playfully, Ed whacked me with a snowball and I whacked him back. We tested our coordination using a broken tree branch as a bat and flailing snowballs as balls. I called our game quits after a snowball I surprisingly hit burst into icy granules spraying my face, neck and camera lens. Ed and I didn’t walk too far along the trial because it narrowed to muddy, uneven ravines eroded by melting snow. Instead, we paused to take some photographs, collect prickly sharp pine cones as mementos, then returned to our car for a quit consultation of the California map.

We decided to skip a visit to Idyllwild just a bit down the road and retraced our route back to Jojoba Hills RV Resort. Though the route was the same, the view from our descent through the mountains and forest on Highway 371 seemed more breathtaking that the ascension. Our exploration was complete and I’ll be waiting for the next time when Ed says, “Let’s leave in an hour.”

February 21, 2009

Route 79 S from Aguanga, CA

North on Hwy 371

West on Hwy 74

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