Wildflowers Season is Here

Wild flower season is almost here in California.  Here is a story about a quick jaunt through the desert, This was after the blown, this year, we will head out there again to see the flowers!!!


Off the Beaten Path, Way Off!
On this extremely hot day in late May, there was a long road ahead with no cars in sight and none on the horizon.  Everywhere you looked you saw sandy brown hills and cactus against a vibrant blue sky.  The hundreds of cactus were a photographers dream about a month ago when they were blooming with colorful wildflowers. From some of the photos I have seen on the internet, it must have been quite something to see.

But this time the air was sizzling at 105 degrees, the flowers were gone, and the long stretch of road was empty.

Why was this road built if there was nothing out here?

Out in the Middle of Nowhere

We were out in the middle of nowhere and I was glad it was daylight. I gave a brief thought of how awful it would be to break down on this lonely road, however, I quickly kicked that thought out of my head.  I also thought how hard this must have been in the stagecoach days, traveling through this harsh environment with wooden wheels and no air conditioning!

As it turns out, this 50 mile long state road (S2) was an actual Stage Route dating back to the 1700’s.

Once in a while you pass by an RV resort and again I was wondering why anyone would camp way out here.  The resort better have a big pool is all I can say.

I found out later that this area does have many camping options including, free primitive spots, private campgrounds, and resorts.  It must be a great get away from colder regions around the state and a place you can come to de-stress far away from the crowds and traffic.

It finally hit me that we were in the interior of California with what seemed like a population of zero.  This is the same state that has 23 million people living in the southern part alone.  It made me appreciate how much more land California has and how much it has to offer.

At least where I live, I can drive two hours in any direction and either be at the beach, in the mountains, or at the desert.  In two hours time I could experience a temperature drop of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the time of year.

In this case, I was in the desert, the Anza Borrego area to be exact.  I was driving at least a half an hour on some unknown road that had me lost and wondering where I was!  As mentioned above, most of the time I saw no cars, no people, and no buildings.

Cactus as far as you can see

A Mirage?

Finally I saw a small area in the distance that I was hoping would have a gas station or a store. It had the latter.  A small store to be exact, but the man behind the cash register was familiar with the area and gave us the bad news that we were 20 miles off track from our destination, the Salton Sea.  Not only did we have to back track but we still had an hour to go to the Salton Sea.

No need to get upset, it was time to enjoy the peace and solitude of this sun drenched landscape that was far removed from civilization.  On research later, I found out that this WAS a great place to view the blooming wildflowers although less crowded than some of the more popular sites.  If we have another rainy season, I am definitely coming back with camera in hand.

Fun and Not so Fun Things in the Desert
The desert always intrigues me although I am a beach girl and always will be.  I wonder what people do out in the middle of nowhere. I know dune buggies and any kind of sand sport is popular and the stars at night are amazing but, what about the remoteness and the isolation?

I pulled over to take a few shots of the desert and heard the subtle yet alarming sound of a rattle snake in the distance.  I had heard this sound before.  Maybe it was closer than I thought since it WAS loud enough to hear, plus why did it feel the need to rattle in the first place? I got back in the car.

Some of my least favorite things are in the desert which includes the dreaded rattlesnake plus, tarantulas, and scorpions.  On the fun side, I have spent some great times on dune buggies, three wheelers, quads, motorcycles, and there is nothing like ending the day by a camp fire and star gazing at night.  The darkness of the desert makes the stars shine bright  as if you could reach out and touch them.

The day ends in the desert. Some say desert sunsets are the best.

We finally made it back to the correct road that would lead us to our destination.  I am glad I got lost, mainly because it gave me an even more appreciation of California and how it has so many different climates and landscapes.  It has lakes, rivers, creeks, mountains, deserts, beaches, oceans, islands, estuaries, canyons, waterfalls, redwoods, lagoons, and so much more!

Making it back home to the coast later in the evening, the display on my car thermometer read 65 degrees outside.  Wow, it truly was a 40 degree swing!

There is much to do in the desert and I am sure we will be doing some stories in the future but in the meantime, I’ll stay cool on the coast and wait to visit again in the fall when the temperatures drop or in the spring when the cactus are blooming.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell


Port Hueneme

Port Hueneme,

When I first heard of Port Hueneme many years ago I had just three questions, where the heck is it?, what is in Port Hueneme, and how do you pronounce Port Hueneme?  The answers in short are:  Near Oxnard, California, a Naval base, and Wy-nee’mee.

So now that we got that out of the way, let me give you a little more info and insight about this interesting coastal town.

Port Hueneme has a population of around 22,000 people and is home to a naval base as well as a bustling port for commerce ships coming in to supply the area.   We inquired at the hotel desk if there were any touristy spots in the harbor area and they said no.  There are no harbor side restaurants, no boat rental places, gift shops, etc.  However, just a few miles up the road in the city of Oxnard, the Channel Island Harbor provides all of that.  The port in Hueneme may not be a hub for visitors but it is a vital supply chain for Ventura County and some of Southern California.

The Naval Base

We found an amazing hotel price at the Holiday Inn Express just one block from the beach and pier, so we jumped at the deal.  It was a super nice hotel that looked fairly new and it was situated on one of the main streets.   It offered rental bikes and surreys to tool around the beach area which would have been about a two or three minute peddle away.

We bypassed the bicycles and instead jumped in the car to investigate the area.  The pier would be our first stop so we brought our fishing poles just to be prepared.   We weren’t opposed to setting up our chairs, throwing out our lines, and relaxing pier side.

This simple wooden structure itself isn’t that long at 650 feet and has absolutely nothing on it. A lot of piers in California have a life guard tower, a restaurant, store, or at the very least, bathrooms.  Here, there is nothing, it’s just a pier.   That kind of made it unique in my opinion. However, near the parking lot there IS a lifeguard building, bathrooms, and a restaurant with a view of the coast.

It was a cold February day and probably why we got the hotel rate so cheap as this region had some rain storms earlier that week.  There was not a soul fishing on the pier which we found kind of strange although we soon found out why.  As we exited the car, the wind was blowing so hard that it was blasting sand pebbles into our face at an unusually high speed.  With the sting of the tiny pellets, I actually felt like they were creating new pores in my skin.  I covered my face with my jacket and quickly moved behind a building.

Now I know why no one was fishing.  This frigid tempest squelched any ideas of us spending time on that beach, pier, or even at the park.  There was no way I was going to sit in a chair and try to enjoy an afternoon of fishing with that cold biting wind at my face or back.  

The warmth of the car seemed like a way better choice, so we set out to explore the area further in the comfort of a blasting heater.

Near the beach there was a nice sized palm tree lined park and from what I have read, there are plenty of very large well maintained parks in Port Hueneme. 

Even though we only saw one surfer, there are plenty of surfing waves in this town.  I am sure on calmer days, the waves are much better.

South of the pier is a massive beach with volley ball courts and sand as a far as you can see. Mini sand dunes made it a picturesque sight and the ripples on the mounds gave evidence of the windy conditions outside.  I was glad I was in my car.    Towards the north are what looked like older condos which looked right over the sand, and even further north is the naval base.  The base creates a dead end where you can’t continue on the beach route to get to the next city which happens to be Oxnard.

The condos overlooking the beach and the beach looking south.

It is a mellow area.  With the lack of people out and about, it almost felt like I had gone back in time.

Directly out to sea you can see one of the five channels islands which are located just off of the coast.  They are Part of the Channel Islands National Park and a few harbors in the area offer day trips or transport for overnight camping.    The islands are staggered in various distances from the mainland so the boat trips range from one to three hours to get there.  Bring your own everything because these islands do not have food or hotel accommodations.

You can access the Islands from the other harbors in the area which include Santa Barbara or fly over from Camarillo Airport.

Even though it is not Port Hueneme, the Channel Island Harbor is so close, it is hard to figure out where the two cities start and end.

Through the many channels of this harbor are homes, restaurants, shops, rental places, parks, and viewpoints just to hang out.  Although we have been to Oxnard many times, I still enjoy driving along its scenic waterways and beaches.  There weren’t a lot of people out and about which could have been because of this time of year, although we have visited in the summer months and it is un-crowded then too.

Channel Island Harbor

So if you are staying in Port Hueneme, just know that it is only a short drive to get to this more tourist/visitor filled area.

Our goal was to go up and down the coast to explore various beaches that we hadn’t seen before and to fulfill our hobby of sea glass hunting.   Port Hueneme was not one of our beachcombing destinations but was a perfect home base for the three day weekend.

We drove north to Santa Barbara which wasn’t too far away and then on another day, we explored Highway 1 going south.  What a beautiful shoreline this is as you weave along this coastal highway. To the east there are steep cliffs and to the west, the sprawling and beautiful Pacific Ocean.  With a busy rainy season so far, the hills were a vibrant green and the ocean was churning furiously under another day of gusty winds.

Highway 1

On our way back to Port Hueneme, we found a place to eat in the city part and then to our hotel for happy hour.  Yes free beer and wine was included in your stay.   How could you not love this place!!

It was almost a full moon so we drove by the pier again to see if anyone was fishing as the wind had finally calmed down a little.  It was only an hour after sunset but the pier was pitch black, no lights, and only a handful of people.   It made me wonder if in summer they turned them on as there WERE light fixtures.

We chose not to stroll around as it was spooky and dark, and only the bright moon gave light to this semi secluded area. 

After a full day of discovering other beaches, plus walking quite a long way on the sand, a comfy bed and TV sounded really good.

A few beaches north of Port Hueneme

So if you want to explore the central coast, look to Port Hueneme as your home for a few days.  Visit nearby Oxnard, Ventura, maybe one of the islands, nearby wine tasting, fishing, boating, the beaches,  even Santa Barbara.

However, save some time and don’t forget to discover the interesting town of Port Wy-nee’mee.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell 

Parting Shot

Ventura isn’t too far away

Off the Beaten Path—Valley Center, North San Diego Country

Spring is in the Air!!!!!

Soon the wildflowers will be in full bloom and it will be time for a drive.
Here is one to think about.

Off the Beaten Path—Valley Center, North San Diego Country

When you think of Valley Center in the North County of San Diego, you think of casinos!!   After all, this is where Harrah’s, Pauma, Valley View, and Pala all call home.  The hotels and casinos stand out like sore thumbs against the picturesque countryside in this serene valley.

After staying at one of the casinos for the weekend, we decided that on our way home we would take a few minutes and explore some of the “off the beaten path” roads in the area.

Valley Center is 27 square miles of rural land, agriculture, and a few homes here and there. It is also home to Bates Nut Farm, Palomar Observatory, Lakes Wohlford and Henshaw, and a 18-hole golf course.


It sits about forty miles north of San Diego and can be accessed a few different ways but most notably 76 Freeway off of Interstate 15.

The hills, fields, and countryside always remind me of a valley I knew in Hawaii, minus the waterfalls, palm trees, the rich green countryside, but other than that…

However, after much rain in the winter, the hills and meadows were filled with the most vibrant green that challenged anything I have seen in Hawaii, if I squinted I could almost see the Wailua Valley on Kauai, well almost.


Cruising on the 76 Freeway we saw a road that headed into the hills so we decided to explore this first.

Continue reading “Off the Beaten Path—Valley Center, North San Diego Country”

Sunday Drive-Lake Hodges and Del Rios Highway

Too cold to go to the beach?  Take a Sunday drive instead. Here is one in the San Diego region.

Sunday Drive-Lake Hodges and Del Dios Highway

I was surprised when we visited Lake Hodges on a very warm spring day that there were only about 5 boats out on the water.   We were told the fishing was bad so I can understand the lack of fishing vessels but it is a nice sized lake that seemed perfect for taking the boat out for a spin just for fun.

We had fished along the shore before and although we didn’t catch anything, we saw about five huge fish being caught some 100 feet down the shore from us, so we knew the fishing can at times be good.  They told me that the water was murky and at a high level so that accounted for some of the  lack of activity. Normally you can catch crappie, bluegill, carp, catfish, and largemouth bass.

The rainy California winter may not have helped the fishing but it certainly splashed the landscape with green hills and colorful flowers.  On almost every drive we have taken in the last few months it has been like that.   Amazing what a good pounding of rain will create later.

Lake Hodges is a lake and reservoir located about 30 miles north of San Diego and just south of Escondido off of Interstate 15.  It has a maximum depth of 115 feet and has about 27 miles of shoreline.

Far above the lake from Del Dios Highway

The lake is open seasonally from February through October on Weds, Saturdays, and Sundays.   Gates are open a half an hour before sunrise and lock at sunset.  There is a concession store and a place to rent rowboats, motor boats, and kayaks as well as ramps to launch your private boats.

If you feel like just hanging around for the day, there is grassy area with picnic tables and designated barbecues that are all close to the store.    There seemed to be plenty of parking places in the large lot but I don’t know how crowded it gets in summer.

A grassy picnic area

Continue reading “Sunday Drive-Lake Hodges and Del Rios Highway”

Lake Tahoe

How to get there
I was approaching one of the highest sections of the road coming into Lake Tahoe and as if on cue the snow began to gently drop on my windshield.   I had traveled this route a few times before while on my way to visit my Sister who resided in South Lake Tahoe.  However, I wasn’t thrilled with my upcoming lack of visibility especially in this most intimidating part of the road.

In addition, the sun had already set and the sky was turning darker by the minute.   I am a beach girl and have seen snow fall maybe three times in my life, so I am not an experienced driver in these conditions.

Luckily my friend, who is from the Mid West, noticed my white knuckles firmly gripping the steering wheel and informed me that she had driven in snowstorms way worst than this.   I saw a pull-off just ahead and I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough!  I happily let her take over the driving duties.

The route we took was one of a few to get into Lake Tahoe and each one has its pluses and minuses. In the way we came, which was coming down from Echo Summit, it was very scenic and only had one area where you drove on what some people would call scary, because of its height.  But that part doesn’t last long, most of the time it is easy driving.

Besides this route, I have driven in two other ways through the years.   The longest approach from the southern part of the state is coming around the Truckee side.  If my memory serves me, it wasn’t one of those winding, switchback roads but rather a gradual incline until you arrive into the northern part of the lake.  In contrast, from the Reno/Nevada side, you are traversing through plenty of switch backs and ‘S’ turns.

The road to Tahoe

Regardless of which way you decide to take, all of them will amaze you with the picturesque scenery.

Sadly, it has been many years since I had been to Tahoe, so when a friend and her family were spending a week at an Incline Village cabin, I asked her to take some photos while I brushed away the cobwebs from my memory to write this story.

A big thank you to Stephanie Moore for the photos.

About the Lake
Lake Tahoe is a huge fresh water lake with a surface area of 191 square miles and at an elevation of 6,225 feet.

The lake is 2/3 in California and 1/3 in the state of Nevada and is the largest alpine lake in North America as well as one of the deepest in the United States.

So what is there to do in Tahoe?

The question should be what isn’t there to do in Tahoe?

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