Danielle and I have been saying we want to go to the San Diego Zoo for several years now. This weekend that finally happened. The morning of Saturday April 8, 2006 we started driving south at around 11am. That's a bit later than we planned, but it can be hard to get up early on Saturday. We stopped at REI in Arcadia to get Danielle new running shoes, but that REI doesn't carry road running shoes. We managed to buy some stuff anyway, and resumed our journey. We pulled off the freeway at a sign for Tom's Hamburgers which turned out to be Tom's Farms: what happens when a roadside fruit stand gets huge. There was a small ferris wheel and a few other rides, lots of places that sell preserves, fruit baskets, and most importantly a fast food restaurant. Danielle had a large burrito and I had a pulled pork sandwich. The food was pretty good and not too expensive for a roadside diner.

A little before 5pm we arrived at our lodging for the long weekend: William Heise County Park. The campsite there is large, with lots of scrub oak. The sites themselves have the standard table with benches and a firepit that keeps the heat in with a grill. They're good size, and fairly private. We set up the tent and went for a short hike over the desert view trail. It leads up to a viewpoint where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Salton Sea. It was a bit too hazy to really see the ocean, but the sea was fairly obvious. The best part of the trail was that it led through an area that had burned in the last year or two. Towards the end my back was getting pretty tired, but the hike was over at just about the right time.

The campsite is at 4000 feet, so it was getting cool and we put on some layers. I then proceeded to decorate my outer layer with Trader Joe's brand Tasty Bites which we had for dinner. During dinner, suddenly an owl flew overhead! I was quite excited because I'd never seen an owl in the wild before. We saw it again a few times. One time I tracked it flying through the trees behind us. It's quite amazing to watch one twist and turn through fairly dense foliage. A little bit later another owl flew over and then two of them went up, circling each other. They seemed to be climbing higher and higher but soon they disappeared behind some trees. Meanwhile a 3rd one was hooting in the trees behind us. That owl's hoot kept us company throughout the night.

The next morning I woke up with a sore back from sleeping on an unsupportive (but soft) air mattress. Danielle cooked oatmeal while I was lazy. Shortly thereafter we were on our way to Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The area near our campground was quite pretty with a mix of rocky hills, scrub oak, and meadows. We enjoyed an impressive view as we descended the 3000 feet or so continuously down to the desert floor. At the bottom it was just a short way to the visitor's center where we got out of the car. Turns out it's hot and sunny in the desert and we'd totally forgotten to pack hats. The gift store did sell hats, but the good ones were too big, and the baseball caps were too heavy. So we bought some bandanas (with park maps on them, no less) and Danielle knew how to attach them to our heads. To top it off I got mine wet to keep me even cooler.

We wandered around the garden next to the visitor's center which sported a nice array of desert flora complete with signs so Danielle can remember the plant's name. Most of the ocotillo in the area was in bloom and some of the barrel cactus was as well. Afterwards we took a short tour to the newly built and opened archaeological building. The tour wasn't terribly interesting because it was mostly focused on the building, but we did learn a few things about the local history while browsing afterwards.

We ate lunch at a bad deli in Borrego Springs before driving on to Tamarisk Grove Campground. There was a guy with a 300mm L lens (and I believe a TC stacked in front of it) so we walked over to see what he was shooting. There was a long-eared owl sitting in a tree that was his subject. I took a quick picture, and we started on the Cactus Loop Trail, a short hike that took us up a small canyon. There was a nice mixture of various cactus and some blooming agave plants. Then we took a break at the campground. We talked to a bird watcher (identified by the binoculars around his neck) and he showed us a barn owl that was sitting in a tree just 100 yards away. Then on the way to grab something from the car we saw another long-eared owl. This prompted me to drag out my long lens and tripod while Danielle explored some more. She saw several more long-eared owls (and I saw some more as well) and we also spotted a hummingbird in its nest. I had fun taking pictures although none of them really came out well. The birds were all somewhat obscured by branches and a stiff breeze made them sway quite a bit.

After taking a bunch of pictures, we took our rest for real. Then we went on a short hike on the Yaqui Well Trail. This trail starts out with the standard cactus and rocks but quickly drops into a wash where the vegetation has more leaves. It ends close to a natural spring where lush green grass grows in the middle of the desert. It was getting later in the afternoon so we drove back to our campsite. Along the way I saw somebody do the dumbest thing in traffic I've ever seen. We were going up hill, stuck about 3 cars behind a large RV which only managed to go maybe 25 mph. The truck behind us was tailgating since it caught up with us. Eventually impatience beat out wisdom and he accelerated past us crossing a double yellow line. He then proceeded to pass the cars in front of us and the RV, still on the wrong side of the double yellow, at the point that the RV was just about to turn a blind corner. Lucky for him, no cars were coming the other way and we didn't pass his burning wreck further along the road either. (I suppose it's possible that he was wiped clean off the road into the canyon next to it.)

Back in Julian we bought fajita ingredients at the market there and inquired about the weather forecast. The boy behind the counter told is in no uncertain terms that it was supposed to start raining that night and not stop for 40 days and 40 nights or until all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered, whichever comes first. We were understandably concerned because we planned to be camping for 2 more nights (albeit at 3000 feet) and visit the San Diego Zoo tomorrow. We figured we'd wait and see so we drove back to the campground. I sealed the seams of the tent while Danielle took a nap. After a tasty chicken-heavy dinner, we spent a short time trying to find the owl that we could hear around our tent, but every time we walked towards it it would stop hooting so we never found it.

On Monday morning my back felt better than Sunday morning because I slept on an uncomfortable but supportive sleeping pad. It still wasn't raining so we went on with our plan of visiting the San Diego Zoo. Laziness made us decide to eat out for breakfast and find a grocery store to bring food with us into the zoo. We did eat out for breakfast, but didn't come across a grocery store on our way to the zoo. We got there at about 10:45am and there was a pretty long line at the entrance. They made it sound like we could have printed out tickets at home and gone right in. 8 hours later, just before closing time, we left the zoo. Needless to say we had a good time. I particularly enjoyed the great apes. {% illustration crw_8891.jpg %} Their exhibits have fake termite mounds with holes that hold sugar water or something. We watched one bonobo take a branch, strip the leaves, and then use the stick to get food out of the hole. It's pretty cool to watch an animal make and use a tool like that. In general the zoo had engaging exhibits where you could observe animals that were fairly active. Some other things that we saw were elephants forage for food, an otter catch live fish, a giant panda cub immitate its mom who was scratching her back, some of the orang utans playing around, a snake with two heads, really old galapagos tortoises, and lots more.

In the last hour we were at the zoo it started sprinkling occasionally. Between that and the late hour, Danielle convinced me to eat out for dinner as well. Our AAA book guided us to Anthony's Fish Grotto in La Mesa. It's a large restaurant and busy, even though it was a Monday night. The decore was fun, the food was good, and so was the service. It's a great place to go.

The drive back to the campsite was pretty hairy. As we went up in elevation, the clouds came down to meet us and we drove through some pretty dense fog. At some points visibility must have been less than 40 yards. Eventually we made it to the campground in one piece. Danielle ready to hit the hay, and me all hopped up on adrenaline. It was drizzling just a bit and had evidently been doing that for quite some time. We brushed our teeth and went to bed. In the morning we packed up quickly and drove home. As we were leaving the park 4 male turkeys crossed the road. We managed a quick shot before they disappeared into the forest.

The pictures for this trip are in the photo album.