Holiday 2008...First Stop: Dos Picos Park, San Diego County


Dos picos Park,

San Diego County

Our first trip to include both Christmas and New Year’s!
We started the trip with a cold winter Tucson rain. Boo!
Look! Big fans in the sky!
Sites #47 & #48 would be great sites to go camping with friends ... right, Bill & Larry!?
We think we were the only ones following the 55 mph speed limit for trucks and vehicles pulling trailers ...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008 was a day of travel to the first destination of this year’s annual winter holiday odyssey… San Diego County’s Dos Picos Park. This was also the first year we had made plans to be away over both Christmas and New Year’s. We made our reservations

in August to be sure that we didn’t get “shut out” over the

holidays. We know now that it wasn’t necessary to make

reservations for the San Diego County Parks — for this year,

anyway — because the weather was pretty cold and windy.

We were one of maybe 6 or 7 sites filled in the entire park at Dos Picos. But had the weather been nicer … who knows?

But we digress. We spent a couple of days prior to our departure date getting the Bambi and ourselves ready for the longest trip we have taken yet … two full weeks out. Woo-hoo! We actually didn’t worry too much about having two weeks worth of food because we knew we would be within shopping distance of civilization wherever we went, and we always take more food than we need anyway. But we were careful to take both cool weather and warm weather clothes, not knowing exactly what we’d run into ... this time of year can be unpredictable.

We were glad we had prepared ahead of time, though because we needed to leave respectably early in order to arrive at Dos Picos, near Ramona,

                    CA, northeast of San Diego before dark. And it’s a good

                        thing we were basically ready except for hitching up

                        because it was pouring rain and pretty cold in Tucson on

                        departure day. It was bad enough having to hitch up in the

                         rain. Not the nicest way to begin a trip, but once on the

                           road, we looked forward to a great time. Shortly after passing by Picacho Peak State Park (which would be out last destination before heading home ... more on that later) with the Peak shrouded in clouds, the rain subsided. By the time we were at the junction of I-10 and I-8 near Casa Grande it had completely stopped. From there to the mountains before San Diego we had clear weather … a little wind here and there but nothing overwhelming. We stopped in Gila Bend and again in Yuma to top off the tank, stretch our legs and let the Girls potty.

Every time we make this trip we are struck by the starkness of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, a Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) area just west of Yuma on the California side of the Colorado River. I-8 passes right through the dunes within sight of the California/Mexico border which is marked by a barrier fence. It’s very otherworldly, especially if there’s any wind causing the sand to blow over the road surface, which was the case this trip. Despite the wind busily reshaping the dunes, RVers were beginning to congregate for holiday sand-buggying (is that a word?). Being BLM land, bookdock camping just about anywhere you want to is permtted, and folks were defintiely taking advantage of it.

Once out of the Dunes, as desolate and arid as they are, you find yourself surrounded by the lush Imperial Valley around El Centro, CA, with green fields of crops lined with pickup trucks and vans bringing farm workers to tend the fields. The flat Valley is framed with mountain ranges in the distance with periodic outcroppings of California fan palms and clusters of farm buildings.

On the west side of the Imperial Valley lie the mountains that must be negotiated before reaching San Diego. They are somewhat barren and

                               look like someone decided to dump loads of big

                                    boulders and rocks in that particular location.

                                       I-8 winds steeply up through these formations,

                                         each direction of travel passing over and under

                                         the other to find it’s own course of least

                                       resistance through the rugged mountains. The

                                        mountain grade continues as the terrain begins

                                           to change … from high desert with cactus and

                                            low brush to scrub oak and greener low-lying shrubs, no doubt due to the moisture carried over the mountain tops from the coast, just miles


As we climbed higher to Tecate Pass weather began to change again. Low clouds covered the highest peaks with Mt. Laguna in the distance. It was obvious that it had been raining and snowing very recently, leaving traces of snow and ice at the side of the road, with the temperature dropping

a good 20 degrees as we topped the summit. The huge alien-

looking wind turbines stood in a row at the crest of Tecate pass

turning gracefully and silently in the fog. They are somewhat

mesmerizing if you are not used to seeing them and the misty air

only adds to the mystery of turbines as they disappear into the distance.

Suddenly, we were in the eastern-most part of the larger San Diego metro area with signs of civilization springing up — homes in the hills, small towns, and — as you progress toward the coast — more and more densely populated areas. Before you know it, you are in heavy traffic, communities whose borders run into each other … and only miles from San Diego proper. It all happens surprisingly quickly once the mountains are behind you.

Our trip plan was to take I-8 to Lakeside, CA, exiting for Lake Jennings (one of the parks we stayed in on our May 2007 trip when it was operated under the auspices of San Diego County, but now being administered by the Helix Wate District), cut across Lakeside and pick up Highway 67 north to Dos Picos Park, just outside Ramona, CA. By the time we got to Lakeside it was 4:30 PM local time (an hour earlier than AZ). Rush hour traffic had begun and as we reached Highway 67 we merged with the out-bound San Diego traffic toward Ramona, which is only 16 miles northeast on the winding road.

We arrived at Dos Picos to find the ranger station closed, so we just went on in to our reserved site, and began settling in for the night. By the time we got unhitched and the stabilizers down it was dark. It had been raining earlier in the day, and when the sun went down a damp chill set in.

The winter season changes were obvious … and quite pretty. We had reserved the same camp site that we had the first time we had been to

                   Dos Picos, #47. It is set apart from the rest of the camp

                          ground with just one neighboring site. These two sites

                            would be great for friends going camping together. The

                              two sites are on a road that leads to the top of a small

                             hill where there is a large enclosed ramada for group

                             events and camping sites in a circle all around the

                              perimeter. From the hill you can see the main part of the park below and the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distance. Our site was surrounded by lush vegetation and bushes with healthy bunches of red berries on them. It was all very Christmassy with all the green accented by the red berries. The recent rains had only intensified the freshness of the park. Of course, one of the first things we had to do was to take the Girls for a little walk. On that first walk through the park we noticed that several improvements had been made since our earlier visit … all the roads had been repaved and curbs were put in. It all made the park look fresh and clean. Nice.

It had been a long day on the road for all of us — 8.5 hours and 415 miles. Of course, we actually followed the 55 mph speed limit for trucks and vehicles towing trailers in CA, so that added to the time.

But we had arrived safely with no “incidents” so we were

happy. Once set up for the night, we had a quick snack to

take the edge off, fed the Girls and cranked up the electric

heater … to get all cozy and warm for the night. For this

trip, we had chosen a red and black interior using a red and

black wool throw with a simple mountain scene in the

design on the bed, with a hunter’s plaid pillow sham, and

“Cayenne” curtains and dinette. That first night in the chilly San Diego mountains we knew we had picked the perfect décor for the trip. You can can check out our various décors at AZBambi Décors.

We had cozy night but not the most restful. Annie had a bit of her chronic coughing thing going on so Terry was up and down with her several times during the night trying to help her get through it. She needed to clear her breathing passages but couldn’t seem to. Finally, in the early morning he got her up and she was able to clear her lungs and could rest peacefully — finally. Poor baby. Poor Terry.

The next day, Christmas Eve morning, Terry drove back to the ranger station to officially check in, but it was closed and not due to be open until 1:30 PM, so he filled out the registration form and slipped it under the door as the instructions on the door asked. Later in the day the ranger stopped by with the tag to put on the dash board of the truck. Now we were “official.”

The San Diego area was having unusually rainy weather, and rumor had it that if the incoming storm dumped enough snow in the higher elevations — where our next stop was — we might be required to have chains. Ick. There were campers in the park who had bought a set of chains and were trying to figure out how to put them on in case they had to use then … they were going to the same area we were. This all made us nervous, but we just decided to wait and see what developed.

We took a drive into Ramona later in the day to get the lay of the town and scout where we could purchase chains if we, in fact, needed them for

             the trip to our next stop, which was only 20 miles further up the

                 road. Being Christmas Eve, there were lots of places closed,

                  but we did manage to find a few antique shops to go through

                 … nice shops, too. We were good and didn’t buy anything,

                  though we saw several interesting and unusual items of

                     interest … such restraint!

Back to the park for our Christmas Eve dinner, we had beef stew and biscuits. It really hit the spot. The weather man said it was supposed to begin raining again during the night and rain most of Christmas Day. On out last walk around the park with the Girls the few other campsites that were occupied were decked out … Christmas trees with lights, music and happy kids around roaring campfires. We decided that camping is a nice way to spend the holidays! That night we were so tired from the trip and the day’s activities that we couldn’t stay awake for a DVD, so we just called it quits and went to bed. The Girls were equally exhausted. We all sort of crashed, not able to wait to see if Santa could find us.

The weatherman was right. About 4:00 AM Christmas morning the rain started and it rained off an on (mostly on) all day Christmas Day, just as predicted. We hoped that Santa made it all around the globe to

deliver presents because the weather was not the best! Of course,

he’s used to snow, so he probably did OK. We, on the other

hand, we were confined to the Bambi most of Christmas Day.

It was pleasant enough, but the Girls would have liked to be

able to go on walks a little more frequently. Two damp dogs

and two people in a 19’ Bambi all day. Hmmm. We made the best of it, however, and had a nice brunch of ham, eggs and toast, and composed and emailed a Holiday Greetings to friends. We also chatted with Larry & Bill who were coming to Dos Picos the next day to visit us and check out the Park. It was a very quiet day, really, but we were happy with that and to be with each other and the Girls.  What more could we ask for?

The day after Christmas the rain was gone and the sun was out … and it was a welcome sight. Bill & Larry called to say they were on their way, so we finished our morning routine of getting the Girls fed and walked. It was a fun meeting when they drove in. This was the first time that we’d actually met Bill & Larry, though we had been corresponding for months. We made their acquaintances on the Airforums. Bill is “SilverGate” on the forums and well known for his in-depth posts documenting various aspects of their 2007 23’ Safari SE (just like ours only bigger). It was great finally meeting them. Larry had even brought a wonderful lunch for us … a hearty home made lentil soup with all sorts of good things in it and fresh corn tamales. We made hot tea and sat out at the picnic table to enjoy the warm and welcomed feast. (Thanks, Larry! You can feed us any time!)

After lunch Bill wanted to take some pictures of us and the surrounding area. So after a few group shots with the “Happy New Year” banner they brought along (always prepared, these two), and a walk up the hill to the ramada, he took off with his camera on a short hike on a trail above the campground. In the meantime, Larry joined us to take the Girls for a stroll through the park …

The park really is a nice place and we can understand why it is so popular with locals. Larry & Bill seemed to like it too, so maybe they’ll be back

                      on their own sometime. We saw another Airstream in the

                         main part of the campground — a newer 25’ Safari. We

                           never did see or meet the owners, as they were always

                          gone when we happened by. Given the opportunity we

                           usually introduce ourselves to other Airstreamers and at

                            least say “hey”… Terry calls this “being friendly.” Greg calls it “stalking!” Guess it’s a matter of perspective.

We had a very pleasant walk with Larry and caught up on everything. Once back to the Bambi, with Bill back from his short hike, we had a cup of hot tea and visited and warmed up in the Bambi. Eventually we said our “goodbyes” to Larry & Bill … we would see them again soon — we had plans to meet them in Borrego Springs, CA at Palm Canyon Campground in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to ring in the new year. We discussed our planned routes, and promised to let them know the road conditions down from the mountains into the desert since they planned to take the same route to Anza-Borrego.

That evening Terry checked the California Road Alert website and found that the roads for the next leg of our trip, up to William Heise County Park near Julian, CA were clear of snow and no chains would be required. Yes!

Click on the slide show icon for pics from Dos Picos, then you can go on to the Wm Heise leg of the trip.  Enjoy!

>San Diego/Wm Heiseholiday08_wmheise.htmlholiday08_wmheise.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0
>Picacho Peakholiday08_picacho.htmlholiday08_picacho.htmlshapeimage_10_link_0
The rock formations seen while climbing out of the Imperial Valley remind us of Texas Canyon near Benson, AZ and Point of Rocks in Prescott, AZ.
You’re kidding! We might need chains??
The weatherman was right. Christmas  was rainy, rainy, rainy!
Terry calls it “friendly.” 
Greg calls it 
>Other Tripstrips_08.htmltrips_08.htmltrips_08.htmlshapeimage_15_link_0shapeimage_15_link_1