Sunday, March 6, 2011

San Diego

After leaving the Tucson area, we made an easy drive west, skirting the Mexican border. We got to Yuma, Arizona, and were immediately glad that we didn't chose a park there: it was one after another of sprawling RV parking lots, veritable seas of RVs, teeming with snowbirds. Not at all what we want for our camping experience. Just over the border, in Winterhaven, California, we drove back out of "civilization" and into desert once more. 7 miles north of the highway, and 1.5 miles down a washboard dirt road, we arrived at Gold Rock Ranch RV, all by itself in the middle of vast expanses of federal recreational land. It wasn't our favorite campground, but we had a decent couple of days there nevertheless.

I donned my protective gear and rode out in search of jumps and drops:

From there we continued westward, through pure sand dunes, the playground of quad ATV's (you can see on in the photo, to give you a sense of scale)...

...and then put Gigantor through its paces climbing back up to 4000 feet and back down the far side, all at about 6% grade. The exhaust brake did a good job controlling our speed as we cruised down the mountain towards San Diego. We made camp at Lake Jennings Regional Park, in Lakeside, California. The sites are all on top of one of the many hills in the area, so there are lots of great views. And the climate is so refreshingly different on the west side of the mountains - all lush and green. The air, while cooler, has some moisture in it, and the heady fragrance of grass, spring blooms, and the Pacific ocean. It feels wonderful just to breath here!

We took a day trip into the city of San Diego, and enjoyed wandering around Balboa Park. They have a fantastic desert garden, where we saw an amazing variety of cacti and other desert plants:

The park is huge and lovely, with lots of gardens, walkways, museums, theaters, etc..

Here are some fantastic Tolkienesque tree roots cascading over a retaining wall:

Then we went over to the Gaslight district and explored that area for a while, before sitting down for some nice spicy Indian food for dinner:

Lastly we went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 1800 acres large, about half of which is habitat for African animals. (The other half preserves endangered California scrub habitat, all but destroyed by developers). Some of the animals are confined to traditional enclosures, but many species co-mingle in one enormous, seemingly fenceless area, giving the animals a much more natural lifestyle, and the spectators a viewing experience somewhat more like actual wild sightings. Having been lucky enough to visit South Africa, it was fun to see some of the same beasts we'd seen at Kruger Park. It was also great to see some species that we'd searched for and never seen while there, like the white rhinoceros, and meerkat:

Many of the animals have given birth to their young, like these elephants:

Here are a couple rhinos:

And the lions. The male, who sleeps some 20 hours a day, got up and paced around, roared a bunch, and marked his territory.

We're not normally inclined to like Zoos, mostly because many of the animals are clearly discontent with their captivity. There is some of that at this park, too, but much more is appropriately sized enclosures and habitats. Testament to this are happier animals which breed and raise their families in this environment. This zoo is particularly successful in breeding rhinocerous, and played a part in the rescue of these species from near extinction. So, we're glad we went, and happy that most of the inmates there are living happy lives of their own. Kruger Park, in South Africa, is a National Park, approximately 220 x 40 miles, making it significantly larger than our home state of Connecticut. All of their animals are free range, and the circle of life plays out in all of its gory glory. Park rangers do not interfere with the natural order of things. No feeding. No saving the of the weak. No enclosures, no guarantees of sightings. But an appropriately high density of animal life, and an effective word-of-mouth system of where animals were last seen, makes spotting most species likely. No zoo will ever match that experience, but San Diego has done admirably well given the contraints of our society.

Speaking of wild places, we're off to L.A....

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