Category: Destinations

Top 20 Best Places to Camp in California

Wild Willy's Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring | Photo by Greg Balkin

The Huffington Post lists their picks for must-do adventures in California. There are some great spots on the list, even if it is a little heavy on campsites and hot springs.

I’m a little surprised to see Two Harbors on the list – I think I’d opt for camping on Anacapa Island instead. That said, my favorite thing to do in Two Harbors is go through the sea cave. BONUS TIP – sing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song in your best pirate voice when you go in the cave. Watch for tides and be advised that in the afternoon you’ll likely be fighting the wind and current on the way back home.

[Photo: Greg Balkin]

Reinventing Yourself for 2014 – Will It Be As Don Draper or a Terrorist?

There’s a little bit of Jay Gatsby in each of us. To live in America is to be surrounded on all sides by a narrative that says you can be anything you want to be. You can reinvent yourself, leave your past behind, move out West, reach for the stars, follow your dreams.

But maybe this mythology of reinvention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marc Freedman, founder of, a nonprofit that supports “second acts” in life, thinks that the whole idea of reinvention is dangerous. Aiming to build a “whole new you” might mean tossing out some valuable resources. Worse yet, by focusing on some kind of idealized self you could easily miss your true potential.

Freedman advocates “reintegration” over reinvention, drawing on a lifetime of knowledge and experience to accomplish new things.

Don Draper or Nicholas Brody?

Mad Men’s Don Draper is a case study in the kind of reinvention that Freedman is concerned about. Draper grew up motherless and in poverty during the depression. Along the way he has the chance to escape his past and he grabs it with both fists. He finds his “sweet spot” distilling desire and selling the American dream.

Draper’s problem is that he has to keep his multiple selves, like the women in his life, from meeting each other. If he ever stopped to explore the complexity of his life and discovered value in telling the truth he could well lose his Midas’ touch in the ad biz.

And this brings us to Sergeant Nicholas Brody, the highly complex central character from the TV series Homeland. In the course of Brody’s three year arc he swings wildly between hero and villain. Where he finally ends up is anybody’s guess.

Like Draper, Brody’s life has become a series of lies plastered on top of each other. A prisoner of war he was “turned” by the enemy and cultivated as a kind of Manchurian candidate. But then he gets “re-turned” by the CIA. Brody’s life eventually becomes a rapid spin-cycle around the Wall of Death.

Unlike Draper though, Brody desperately looks for some kind of thread in his life to pull things together. Is he a war hero? A victim? A family man? A killer? I’ll leave you to judge for yourself how successful Brody is at pulling of a “second act” and redeeming himself but it’s clear that when he does well it is because he finds strength and stability in his past. It’s impossible to imagine Brody pulling off his fait accompli without drawing on all of his previous experiences.

The contrast between these two figures is pretty stark. In their respective stories each has reached the end of the line. But only one will be remembered for who he truly was.

German Hotel for People Who Want to Pretend They Are Camping

Huttenpalast Camper

Do you love camping but hate mosquitos and…well, everything that has to do with the outdoors? Welcome to Hüttenpalast, an affordable (30 euros per person, roughly $43), hotel near Berlin that brings the outdoors inside. Here you can sleep in a tiny hut or canned-ham style trailer, sing campfire songs with total strangers, and stumble through the trees to the bathroom in darkness…all the things you love about camping without the fear of getting eaten by bears.

If the idea of sleeping in a tiny hut thrills you but you aren’t planning a trip outside the US any time soon you might try renting a yurt in Big Sur, staying in an Airstream in the Catskill Mountains, New York at Kate’s Lazy Meadow (owned by Kate Pierson of the B-52s), or sleeping where the bough doesn’t break at the Treesort treehouse bed & breakfast in Cave Junction, Oregon.

Via Treehugger

Hike of the Week – Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch

Ranch House at Peter Strauss Ranch

Peter Strauss Ranch is a great place to explore, picnic and introduce kids to hiking. The 0.6 mile Peter Strauss Trail is one of the best places in the Santa Monica Mountains to hike with children who are at that awkward age – too big to lug in a backpack carrier but not quite ready for a march to Bataan. The trail is shady, well maintained and an easy hike. There is ample evidence of wildlife on the property but a peacock is the fiercest animal you’re likely to encounter. The grounds are peaceful but on a nice day you’ll have to put up with the constant thrum of motorcycles on Mulholland.

For more ambitious hikers and explorers there is a connector to Malibu Lake and from there you can head over to Paramount Ranch or to the Malibu Creek area.

One of the nice things about using Strauss ranch as your trailhead is that the parking lot is a mere stumble from The Old Place, a colorful and historic watering hole. Boutique prices but the food is good and the atmosphere is intriguing.


30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) to Kanan Road exit. South on Kanan Road 2.8 miles. Turn left on Troutdale Drive to Mulholland Highway. Left on Mulholland Highway 400 feet then right into the parking lot.

More photos of the area at Geek Hiker.

Peter Strauss Trail

Peter Strauss Trail is shady, well-kept

Hike of the Week – Cheseboro Canyon

One of five coyotes in a pack at Cheseboro Canyon

This week’s hike was four easy miles, out and back, in Cheseboro Canyon. One of the highlights was an encounter with a pack of five young coyotes, as you might be able to see in the grainy enlarged iPhone snap above. These coyotes are extremely well fed this year, judging from the quantity of furry scat along the trails.

I’ve blogged about Cheseboro Canyon before. The main trails are broad and flat. Sometimes people ask me where to hike with young children. Cheeseboro Canyon is a great place to hike with kids, provided you keep an eye open for fast moving moutain bikers.

This year there is considerable growth in vegetation in the area, meaning long pants beat hiking shorts if you want to protect yourself from ticks and foxtails on the side trails. The trails are well marked but if you don’t have a map in hand it’s easy to take a loop you weren’t counting on – as Bruce will tell you on Homer’s Travels.

Ventura County Trails has a good overview of hiking and mountain biking trails in Cheseboro Canyon. The guides are oriented to cyclists but it’s a good place to start if you want to explore a pocket wilderness that’s freeway-close.

Uncharted Territory Now Charted by Fascinating Maps

square earth theory

This map proves the Earth is square

There’s a peculiar comfort in a map – it extends the boundaries of our consciousness to the furthest regions, giving a clear picture of relationships that might otherwise be lost in the murky fog of our lizard brains. Maps bring to light new possibilites. Maybe I can get there from here… and reveals existing boundaries …and maybe I can’t.

Strange Maps is a fascinating site with over 400 unusual maps and counting. Some of these maps are quite useful, such as the map of privately owned public spaces in San Francisco. This particular map reveals secluded parks, plazas and gardens that the public is welcome to enjoy…and might not otherwise discover. Other maps take us into the imagination such as this sketch of Jonathan Swift’s Brobdingnag, into the world of serendipity with startling maps found in nature and info-graphics of all sorts.

With ascents of Everest as common as an escalator ride to the hosiery department at Macy’s, it may be true that there are no new frontiers. But Strange Maps shows us a few territories that are still worth exploring.

Via Boing Boing

Mysterious Sphinx of Malibu Found?

boney bluff aka sphinx of mu

Is this the Sphinx of a lost civilization?

The ruins of a lost civilization are overlooked by hikers on a daily basis in the mountains above Malibu…at least that is what Robert Stanley claims.

My mission last week was to explore part of the Santa Monica Mountains and see what, if anything, I could find that supports Stanley’s notion that a lost civilization of Lemurians once inhabited this area…something ripped from the pages of a Thomas Pynchon novel.

One of the difficulties in conducting this expedition lay in the sketchiness of the details. Stanley hasn’t posted much on the subject. Under the title Megalithic Monuments of Mu, Stanley noted that he found ancient ruins in the hills above Malibu. He also notes that he found “megalithic monuments” in the area. There are a half dozen pictures posted in his article but he doesn’t explain the pictures or how they relate to the monuments he found. A caption states “the Sphinx face overlooks the Mu.”
The implication is that an early civilization carved a monumental face in the sandstone somewhere in the Santa Monica mountains. But Stanley never actually says this. The authors of Weird California hedge on the claim by saying “There was also a huge rock outcropping that resembled the outline of a human face staring out to the Pacific, which Stanley dubbed the Sphinx.

The Plan

Enter the park from the north and view the area from Conejo Peak. This should be the area where the ruins are located, according to a newsgroup posting that located them about one mile north of Cracked Roch (Split Rock).

The Adventure

It turns out that the trail to the top of Conejo Peak is pretty steep – over 1,000 feet climb in under two miles. A bit much for this early in the season. One very cool feature of the hike is the mountain lion capture area along the connector trail between Danielson and Staber roads. A series of three traps, appearing to be in disrepair, along with the bones from the trap bait (deer carcasses) are placed along the trail. A creepy sight, it made me feel like I had stumbled into the Lost Elephant Graveyard from the Lion King.

lion trap in santa monica mountains

The Result

From Conejo Peak you can clearly see Robert Stanley’s Sphinx (pictured above) well to the south. I thought it would be more difficult to find, seeing that Stanley quotes an archeologist who had explored the area on several occasions but was never able to find this feature.

(It should be noted that the Sphinx, and presumably the remainder of the ruins, is west of Split Rock, not north as a newsgroup poster claimed.)

It don’t know the area well enough to identify the outcropping, but I believe it is called Boney Bluff, due west of Sandstone Peak. It looks like an interesting area to explore and seems to be a favorite with climbers. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe there is an actual face carved into this mountain. More likely it is a mimetolith…a rock that has a shape resembling something else.

Further exploration is necessary!

Where to Camp in Ventura County

car camping

Whether you’re coming from out of town or just need a quick overnight outdoors break, there are more places to camp around Ventura than you might imagine.

The Real Cheap Sports blog has a comprehensive list of campsites in Ventura county. They list phone numbers, locations, amenities and fees. By the way, Real Cheap Sports has an awesome assortment of Frisbees, including the only night time disc I’ve ever seen. You can check out Real Cheap Sports sales here.

My favorite camp spots from their list are:

McGrath State Beach (the sand dunes are great)
2211 Harbor Blvd. Oxnard, CA
5 miles south of Ventura, off Hwy 101 via Harbor Blvd.
174 campsites. RVs up to 45 feet. No hookups. Set between river banks and sand dunes. $25 per night. Open year round. 805-654-4744. Reservations 800-444-7275.

Steckel Park (All-new facilities. Tent camping, I believe, is first-come, first served)
8080 Mistletoe Road, Santa Paula, CA
First come, first served. Open year round.
RV, tent, group sites. BBQ, firepits, electrical hookups, restrooms, showers, water. Reservations two weeks out. 805-654-3951

Some camp spots not on their list:

Camp Comfort
Once a haven for hobos, this county park has been redone. Close to ghostly Char-man bridge.
11969 North Creek Road, Ojai. Hwy 33, S.E. on Hermosa Road. 654-3951
Host, Restrooms/Water
Picnic Family, Group, BBQ/Firepits
Activities Playground, Horseshoe Pits
Camping Firegrate, Showers, Laundry

Kenny Grove Park
Funky and near Fillmore. Half the park has long-term camping.
823 Oak Ave.
Fillmore CA 93015
Phone: 805.524.0750
GPS: 34.4069, -118.9467
RV sites
Amenities: Bathhouse, tent sites.

While technically not in Ventura County, Point Mugu State Park has some great camping…and they have WiFi!

And if you have an RV (including a VW bus) you can always camp at WalMart in Oxnard. We tried that once for fun with the kids. Really noisy because of the parking lot sweepers. Here is a list of WalMarts that don’t allow camping.

If you have any other favorite spots to pitch your tent, let us know in comments.

Cheseboro Canyon Hike

Cheeseboro Canyon Trail

Cheseboro Canyon is part of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational area, and part of a larger network of clearly marked trails in an open space surrounded by suburban sprawl. You can find a good map of Cheeseboro Canyon here. The area is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians. It is likely to be a speedway on a sunny weekend.

I hiked to Shepherd’s Flat late Sunday evening, sharing the trail with a handful of cyclists and trail runners. The first part of the hike, Cheseboro Canyon Trail, follows the valley floor northwards. The trail is smooth and quite wide with stands of shady oaks.

At about 3.5 miles you come to Sulphur Springs. Here the trail narrows and the topography gets much more interesting. The soil takes on a reddish iron-rich hue and the hills are covered with boulders. You leave the live oak habitat for scrub oak, much of it scarred from the Topanga fire of 2005.

From Shepherd’s FlatCheeseboro Ridge I headed back by way of Cheseboro Ridge. There are nice views of the Santa Monica mountains to the South West and the Las Virgenes Open Space immediately to the East. But at this point the trail itself is a hot, dusty trudge along a service road for the high tension power lines. There are at least three stiff climbs, not something I wanted to see after pounding out six miles.

Next time I might hike in on Cheseboro Ridge and hike out on the canyon trail.

There are a good number of geochaches stashed in this region. I popped coordinates for three geocaches into my GPS, but without a decent map of the area–in my pre-trip planning I did a Google search for variety of misspellings: “hike Cheesebro canyon” and “hiking trails Cheseboro canyon.” I found hits. But no maps.

Suffice it to say that the geocaches I was looking for were not in Cheseboro canyon, but in the next canyon over in the Las Virgenes area. So I came up empty handed.

Because I misunderestimated how long the 10 plus mile “round trip would”  take me, I wound up getting back to the trailhead well after dusk.  Aside from my general unease about Dementors stalking me in the darkness there was a heart-bursting moment when I stopped under a live oak to glance at my GPS.  A murder of crows exploded from the branches above me.