My Life as a Traveler

Grand Slam Birthday

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it’s George’s birthday and we decide to go to the desert. But first we have to eat, since the hotel lounge is closed. George has had a hankering the last couple of days for a Grand Slam breakfast at Denney’s. Not my first choice, but what are you going to do? It’s the man’s birthday! There’s a Denney’s right by the hotel, but we need an early start to get to the desert, so we bypass that one and hope for something good to show up on the way.

Leaving San Diego heading east, you find lots of open space hills covered with house-sized boulders filled in with cactus and sage. There are two sets of mountains to cross to get to the Arroyo-Borrega desert. Over the first rise of hills we descend to Ramona, a small ranch town in the valley. And what do we see as we enter town?? Denney’s! Guess where we had breakfast. We were all Grand-Slammed.

After breakfast, we drive over the second set of mountains to look down on a seemingly neverending flatness that is the California desert. We’re still in San Diego County, but this is another world. Rocks, bushes, and cactus as far as the eye can see. We wind down the hills to the desert floor and find the State Park Headquarters. They direct us to the nearest most interesting trail and in ten minutes, we are hiking up a valley between the brushy mountains. There’s plenty of water in the backpack. It’s about 10:30am and there are a bunch of people on the trail; lots of kids excited to be there. After about 20 minutes of walking up a dry riverbed, we turn a corner and come face to face with some of the Desert Bighorn sheep that clamber up and down the rocky slopes. They don’t mind if I take their picture.

After about another 45 minutes on the slowly climbing trail, we reach our destination, the desert springs. OK, it’s not just springs, it’s a true oasis! A huge stand of date palms sit atop a stream tumbling over some boulders. At first glimpse, it looks like a scene from the Arabian nights. We sit in the shade and marvel at the place. However, there’s a nagging question: where is the water coming from?? Inquiring minds want to know, so we follow the stream, hauling each other up the huge boulders that mark the end of the State Park trail. We’re in death march mode now, off trail and Morgan’s loving it. Finally, we stumble onto a narrow trail along the stream that’s littered with sheep droppings. Ah, we must be in the right place!

The source must be just around the corner. We turn the corner, and no, the trail continues around another bend. Still no source, not here, or around the next bend, nor around the next bend. We’re getting tired and it’s getting late, so we give up, take our shoes off, and cool our toes in the stream, enjoying the utter quietness of the canyon.

All good things must come to an end, though, and it’s time to head back. Morgan hikes ahead to find the best way to negotiate the boulders on the way back. As he summits one of the bigger rocks, he sees a guy in a funny-looking hat who commands him to STOP! The guy then whips out his harmonica and starts playing “Jingle Bells”. By the time George and I get there, he’s on “Silent Night.” When I requested “Happy Birthday” for George, he was happy to comply. How random.

Back on the road, we leave the desert and wind back over the hills. We stop by Julian, an old mining town known for its 1800’s architecture and apple pies. Unfortunately, everyone else in California was there, too, so we got the heck out of there and headed back to San Diego through the blackened skeletons of the Cuyamaca Forest.  In October 2003, The largest ever of the California wildfires raged through here, destroying not only the fir, cedar, pine, and oak, but also the homes of many of the residents who had no choice but to move away.

The final treat of the day was dinner at Solare, a nice Italian restaurant on Point Loma. A Living Social deal (sort of like Groupon – got $75 of food for $35), this was one of the places where one of George’s favorite movies, “Top Gun”, was filmed. When I made the reservation (used www.Opentable.com), I told them it was George’s birthday. They gave us their special wine room – a table for 4 in its own little glass room in the middle of the restaurant, where they keep the wine bottles. How cool! Great food, excellent location, special birthday service, and a good deal to boot. From Denney’s to the random harmonica guy, to this fine dinner, all in all it was a great birthday for George!

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