Three Rainbows over Southern California - March 2007

Well, we had to fly somewhere this spring - there was a $120 refund from the trip to Houston last fall waiting to be used in our Southwest Airlines account, and sunny Southern California certainly sounded good after a long cold winter! So, when special airfares popped up briefly for $82.50 each way between Providence and LAX, for once we hopped right on it! (Usually Pete will hem and haw until the opportunity passes, like that $199 for a 4-day cruise from Long Beach to Catalina Island, San Diego and Ensenada last January, but this time I think he knew he wouldn't be getting another chance!) Anyway, we hadn't been out to California in 4 years, Pete had never been south of LA before, and here was a chance to see our old friends Don and Gwen to give them their "LA-LA" (Lifetime Achievement Letterboxing Award), so the matter was quickly settled: our "annual spring desert trip" this year would be to to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, largest state park in the nation, plus whatever all else we might manage to squeeze into that one short week of hiking, camping and sight-seeing!

Originally, we had thought we would mostly just pass on letterboxing for this trip, considering that the recent floods of indoor boxes, drive-bys, cooties, PTs, PLBs, etc.,which some people seemingly felt compelled to count and log-in like geocaches, had been making such a travesty of our once beloved hobby that it looked to us to have degenerated into mere "stamp collecting"! Once again, however, thoughts of having real adventures associated with finding bona fide boxes in new places started to suck us in! First we took note that there were quite a few boxes right along out proposed routes anyway, so why not stop for a few? Then we noticed that there didn't seem to be that many planters in the San Diego area, so if we got to meet a half dozen or so, that might not be such a bad thing, right? We asked Don about that, he apparently put matters in the hands of Geisha Girl, and before we even realized it, the gathering had outgrown its proposed venue at Old Town San Diego and had been booted north to Vista! We immediately began to worry that the gathering was going to be too big for us, that it would turn out to be one of those big stamp-collecting orgies that we needed to avoid (so as not to be tempted to have our over 95% walk-earned F-counts artificially inflated by that "fluff stuff" the way it seemed many newer boxers of the past few years had been doing! ) I even begged Pete to remove our names from the list, transfer our flights to someplace else with fewer letterboxers (like Albuquerque, Phoenix or Las Vegas), or cancel the trip altogether! He just looked at me and told me to calm down... that everything would be OK.

So, in spite of the panic bouts, we headed out, but not until Pete had assured me that we could spend the first night at Disneyland, where there were no letterboxes (or at least none that we were aware of, thank goodness! :-) That allowed us to move more comfortably around the grounds, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Downtown Disney without being preoccupied by thoughts of little plastic boxes! Even as it was though, Pete had cracked his head on a sharp sign earlier that evening while looking for a letterbox, and it was very disconcerting to still see signs of blood dripping down the side of his ear! Fortunately, we had also visited a special Bodhi Tree planted in honor of the Dalai Lama in the lovely Fullerton Arboretum, so a few quiet moments like that (plus Chinese buffet, of course!) helped to bring us some measure of peace in the otherwise hectic world of the interlaced freeway!

The next morning, still unable to face the thought of freeway traffic, we decided to spend some time at the Crystal Cathedral (aka the "Disneyland of Christianity"). While discussing peak moments of feeling close to God at a recent Bible study (mine were naturally while backpacking along the CDT, PCT and other long distance trails), one of the members of our group said that hers had occurred while attending services at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA, so of course I wanted to check that place out! It really is quite a remarkable set of buildings and statues that we got to see on tour in preparation for filming the upcoming Easter shows, but I think the things I will remember the most are the little shiny platinum baby Jesus on the donkey with his non-shiny earth family, the little live bird that nestled happily on the head of the bronzed smiling Jesus, and, there behind the burning bush, the most beautiful public ladies' room I've ever seen anywhere on the planet - bar none!

Anyway, Pete was finally starting to get antsy and didn't want us to get stuck in the gift shop, so off we ventured to try our luck on the freeways again. Pete had worked out a few of the mystery boxes in the area, so he wanted to make some detours to look for those particular boxes. Every time we got to one, however, it seemed something would go wrong. One place we got to during an hour of "noise pollution", so we obviously didn't want to wait around there; another had, unbenownst to us, gone missing and had the clue changed, so there we were left looking up the wrong tree, etc. We did eventually find a dozen or so boxes, but most of them were not the ones we had originally plotted out! In typical "random letterboxing fashion", we just kept letting ourselves get led further and further astray, nonetheless enjoying ourselves whereever we happened to end up! Once back on track down the Pacific Coast Highway, though, there happened to be one other box that Pete really wanted to get. At first, the situation seemed impossible with "no parking" signs everywhere in a narrow neighborhood gouged out of the hills and the path to the box only supposed to be done at low tide, which, of course, we had no idea when that was! I suggest that we "blow it off", like we had so many other boxes, but Pete insisted that we park up on the PCH and walk back down, and - boy - am I glad we did! With the waves crashing right next to us in tune to my little yelping dance steps of delight, finding that "Tidepool Lighthouse" box ended up being one of the more memorable letterboxing adventures of our trip! Soon afterwards, we ended our evening munching Santa Fe chicken sandwiches at Doheney Beach, with a glorious rainbow arcing its way above the famous cliffs of Dana Point! (The ranger at the nearby environmental center had told us about the desperately low water situation in the area and had asked us to please bring some of that extra New England rain over with us, so we tried to oblige - but we did, of course, have to get it over with in time for sunset camping on the beach!:-)

The following day was going to be our only chance to swing down towards San Diego, but once gain Pete did not want to risk getting stuck in traffic, so we only did a quick in-and-out to Old Town, after spending most of the rest of our time exploring outlying regions like Batiquitos Lagoon, Mt. Soledad, Pottery Canyon, Tecolote Canyon, La Jolla, Mission Bay, and MIssion Hills, where we met up with Don that afternoon to hear some of his stories from a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands and to visit his box at Old MIssion Dam, before taking a short climb up to Coyote Lookout, then heading back north to our motel in Escondido and a brief visit with the colorful retinue of Queen Califia in the park after dark!

The next morning had us seemingly reluctant to head off to the gathering in Vista, so we took a leisurely stroll around Lake Hodges, totally oblivious to the fact that there was another letterbox just down the way on a different path! Our anxiety soon returned as we approached Vista, almost deciding to pass on the gathering altogether, turn around and start heading east to the mountains, but Pete said we should at least try to put in an appearance before heading off to hike. Well, we must have been glad that we did, because we ended up staying there all afternoon! Happily, the Vista "lawn party" turned out not to be one of those excessive "stamp-a-thons" making a mockery of letterboxing, but rather more of what gatherings used to be. At this gathering, yes, we did get a couple of personal travelers and a couple of cooties, but mostly what we did was just a few dozen exchanges with an interesting bunch of letterboxers from as far away as Alaska and British Columbia, a bit of delicious salad sampling, brief examining of Don's skillful carving techniques, and then several miles of late afternoon rambling, including a short section with Wisconsin Hiker and Martini Man, for a handful of well-hidden boxes. Now, that's what we call a rather pleasant gathering afternoon! So, feeling "refreshed" instead of "whipped", after popping into Jack-in-the-Box for a quick dinner "snack in-the-box", we wound our way out through the mountains to camp along the Pacific Crest Trail - not even minding that we had had to pass on Iron Mt., Volcan Mt., and nearly all the boxes in between!

Waking up on the PCT the next morning was absolutely glorious for me! I had backpacked that entire 2,650 mile trail three times through from Mexico to Canada in the 1980's and 1990's, but it had been many years since I'd been back out there. I quickly convinced Pete that Barrel Springs, an essential water hole located along the PCT about 26 dry, snaking trail miles from Chariot Canyon, was the place where I wanted to leave the letterbox "La Llorona", that Chuck had sent out with us from CT. Soon afterwards that morning we saw the temperature in our car go up within minutes from 33 degrees on the PCT, to 66 at Culp Valley, to 88 in Borrego Springs as we quickly dropped down from the Laguna Mountains to the Anza-Borrego desert floor! Pretty dramatic even within the comfort zone of a car, but nothing compared to many of those days I'd experienced backpacking along the PCT, where, for example, I'd be post-holing up to my upper thighs at a bone-chilling 15 degrees in the snows at 10,000 feet on the slopes of San Jacinto in the morning (May 1988) then dropping down to a sweaty 90 degrees at 2,000 feet in San Gorgonio Pass in the afternoon, and then right back up to the snows of the San Bernardinos! This year, however, was exceedingly dry - no snow visible on San Jacinto at that moment in March and only a trace of rain (0.7 inch) in ABDSP for the whole winter! Needless to say, we didn't get to see the desert in bloom as might have been the case at this time in a "normal year", but we did walk for miles across the desert to find a few indigo bushes with their dark purple blossoms, royal palms in their natural setting, and, of all the various cacti out there, exactly one barrel cactus that had somehow managed to sprout a few yellow blossoms! As for elephant trees and desert pupfish, we needn't have walked as far as we did, because as we later discovered, examples of those were available just outside the brand new underground ABDSP museum and visitor center!

So, we stayed on there awhile and took in the exhibits, a film on the Australian and Ukrainian poet family that had homesteaded for years up on Ghost Mt., and a lecture by a Montana cowboy on the history of the Mormon Battalion (including 4 women who had survived that whole expedition) which had passed through this very desert in 1846-7. Naturally, we then had to go place our 200th letterbox near one of those historic spots, which we hope people will take the time to discover. Finally, we realized in passing through the Carrizo Badlands that we were then less than 50 miles from the Mexican border near El Centro (about as far as from our home in RI to Providence!), so off we headed for a dinner detour to the Golden Corral in El Centro before slipping back into ABDSP through another portal to camp near Ocotillo Wells.

Sunrise the next morning came up beautifully over the Salton Sea, and soon we were off to the Mecca Hills for one of our favorite hikes of the trip - a delightful jaunt up a few rickety old ladders into the twisting bowels of Painted Canyon! Yes, there was even a letterbox there, but mostly it just reminded us of how much we'd loved hiking those old slot canyons in our pre-letterboxing days (and the ladders were even reminiscent of a trip I'd once taken to a mountain near Cuernavaca, Mexico with a group of Mexican girl scouts!) Next heading back west towards Indio absolutely required a stop at the Oasis Date Gardens, where we sampled a dozen different kinds of dates, along with the requisite and surprisingly delicious date milkshakes. Another few hop, skip and letterboxing jumps had us drinking horchata in Palm Springs, then switch backing up the "Palms to Pines" highway to once again regale ourselves with PCT memories in the little "trailtown" of Idyllwild. Night time caught us searching for "rare protected frogs" along the San Jacinto RIver (don't worry - we stayed more than 10 feet away!), then twisting back down the curvaceous roads to hobnob with the new age dinosaurs at Cabezon near the PCT crossing at Whitewater Canyon.

That night brought much needed rain to the desert and some snow to the mountains. Flashing signs the next morning said that chains were required for heading up the "Rim of the World" highway towards Big Bear, so once again we "switched gears" and opted for taking a shorter loop through budding apple trees and then hitting the PCT at Cajon Pass instead. What a laugh we had to see that there was now an official sign at the PCT trailhead saying "McDonalds .4 miles North" - there certainly hadn't been anything like that back when I had backpacked the trail! (It reminded us also of that little water stand we'd just seen the day or so before, now set up at "Scissors Crossing" in ABDSP to break up one of those 26 mile waterless sections of desert hiking!) Well, some areas get developed while others stay pretty much pristine, and it wasn't long before we were out hiking a relocated section of PCT through the surprising high desert snow flurries, picking up a few letterboxes, getting pricked by Spanish Bayonets, and then viewing one of the most beautiful double rainbows we'd seen in ages!

So, others may yet get to see the desert in bloom after that mixed bag of precipitation, but we were now running out of time. We dropped back down to Disney for a late lunch at the sushi buffet, scuttled over to Seal Beach for just a couple more letterboxes to round out our hundred finds for the trip (much more satisfying than the hundred stamps anybody can collect these days merely by attending one of those gathering "stamp-a-thons"!), and then snuggled in at the Comfort Inn, content to repack our packs and turn in early for the flight back home the following morning. Thanks to everyone who helped make this trip special for us by planting the letterboxes we found along the way, to Geisha Girl and hubby for her well-planned non-overwhelming letterboxing event, and to Don and Gwen for being our original west coast "LA-LA" heroes!

Cheers to you all,

Wanda (and Pete)


Home: Our Letterboxing Treasury

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