Friday, March 24, 2017

Our New Home in Tehachapi, California

After our day of snow skiing, we spent one more night in our camping spot in Apple Valley. Then we headed a couple hours down the road to the town of Tehachapi. We had to get pronunciation lessons for our new home town--Teh-HATCH-a-pea. Learning to spell it and pronounce it took the first couple days!

We knew that this was going to be a special campground, so Mark pulled the motor home in backwards. That meant we had to stretch electric and water connections under the motor home. But it allowed us to have our windshield pointing the opposite direction than usual.

Instead of pointing towards the other RVs in the park, we could now see the Tehachapi Mountains across a grassy meadow.

That grassy meadow is home to a busy colony of California ground squirrels.

Instead of a bushy tail like their high-rise-tree-loving cousin squirrels, these guys have a narrow tail that takes up less space in their underground burrows.

Also hidden in that green valley is a thin strip of concrete. That concrete is a landing strip, because our next-door neighbor is the Mountain Valley Airport. In fact, we were still setting up the motor home when we saw our first take-off of the tow plane pulling a sailplane into the sky.

Denisa hurried over to the airport to get the scoop. This is Skylark North--a full-service glider flight school. She got her information directly from the pilot of the tow plane--a retired Air Force pilot glad to have the opportunity to be in the air on a daily basis. Besides, his wife was tired of him hanging out at home too much when he retired. (Mark is glad his wife doesn't share this same point of view.) Behind the airport is another of the windmill forests that we are getting used to seeing throughout California.

It doesn't take long to get both planes into the air, with the sail plane tethered to the tow plane.

We watched as the two planes cleared the campground trees, still tethered in the blue sky. Our pilot friend told us that his plane is a retired crop duster. This little plane has enough power to propel both across the sky to altitudes up to 4,000 feet.

When the tether is released, the sailplane can spend hours in the air, catching air current lifts off the mountains. But many of the flights were quite short, so we got to see lots of these motor-less landings.

After landing, the sail plane tilts to one side, ready to be straightened for another take-off. Most of the flyers we watched were pilots from the nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Glider training is part of the mandatory curriculum for both pilots and astronauts. We were told that Neil Armstrong did his glider training right here in Tehachapi.

The wind determines the direction for take-off, and we saw them going both ways during the days we were hanging out at the campground. It was so much fun!

On the other side of the campground, we have a great view of an apple orchard. We're hoping to see some blossoms by the time we leave here.

In the meantime, some of the trees in the campground are already blooming.

Denisa loves flowers, and little pink fruit blossoms and the red leaves that accompany them are beautiful.

The mountains that we see through our windshield are the Tehachapi Range, and we found there are trails that start at a county park just a few miles from our campground.

We took off on a trail that immediately started climbing at a steep angle toward the summit.

There was a disturbing absence of signage, and we wondered if we had wandered off the main trail. As we got higher on the mountain, the trail got fainter. Using our best survival skills, we used the bright orange peel from our cuties to mark our path. It's not reassuring to realize that we can't see the orange peel on the ground in the picture below.

We were high enough in elevation to find big patches of snow, and we were obviously the first persons to hike this trail this winter. The good news is that our foot steps were as good as orange peels to help mark our return trip.

Mark, however, used some of that snow to make a snowball. The expert photographer that was also on this hike managed to catch that snow ball in mid-air as it zoomed toward the camera (and camera-woman).

We made it to the summit of our peak, not sure if it was Tehachapi Peak that we were aiming for or not. But there were nice views of other snow-covered mountains all around us on this warm day.

We toyed with the idea of continuing on to see where else this hike would take us. But the snow got heavier and completely covered the trail.

It was interesting to see that this snow was littered with an entire winter of pine needles and forest seeds. It looks like those seeds have an automatic source of moisture this spring when the snow melts around them.

Those seeds have fallen a long ways from these tall trees that are making Denisa feel very short.

From big trees fall big pine cones. (From big pine cones comes big pine sap. It will take two days to wear that sticky sap off of Denisa's hands after this close encounter with this giant cone.)

So we decided that our best chance of surviving this hike was to return back down the mountain in the direction we came up. We stopped for a picnic break to enjoy our summit and the beautiful weather we had been blessed with. Then we followed our orange peel path back down to our waiting car.

So we are feeling very good about our stay in our new home town of Tehachapi, California. We are also loving the view from our full-size windshield. We have found that sitting in the driver's seat gives a comfortable front row seat to the sunsets beside the Tehachapi Mountains. We're going to like it here!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

California Skiing

Two days ago we were sweating in the desert, and now we are skiing in the snow in the mountains. California is pretty awesome, with only an hour's drive between such different terrain!

We have been carrying around our snow ski wardrobe for the last two years. It was finally time to open up that suitcase, and see if that stuff still fit. We turned on the air-conditioner, and felt a little silly trying on snow ski pants when it was 95 degrees outside. It's hard to make good decisions about what to wear in the snow when you have been wearing shorts for a week. This morning we had our clothes laid out, because we were up early to make the 36-mile drive to the mountain. We don't often see the sun rise through the car windshield, but we did this morning.

We were at the ski rental shop by 7:30 a.m., picking up our boots, skis and poles. Mark found an on-line coupon, and equipment for both of us together came to a whopping $35. This is going to be the least expensive ski trip ever! We drove to Snow Summit Ski Resort's parking lot to get our free lift tickets, and there was almost no line at the ticket office on this Tuesday morning.

We were suited up and in the ski lift line before it opened at 9:00.

That means we were on the first ski run of the day by 9:05. Snow Summit grooms its runs every night, and we could certainly see and feel those icy ridges on the first run of the day.

As we made a trip up another chair lift, we could see the crystal blue water of Bear Lake in the valley below.

There were never any lines at the chair lifts. So all day we skied down the mountain, and jumped on the next chair to take us back to the top.

We found out that Snow Summit was busy getting ready for a special guest today. No, it wasn't a retired couple from Oklahoma. They were hosting two-time gold-medal snowboarder Shaun White. They were grooming a snowboard run that was closed to the public, making sure it was perfect for a film shoot with the Olympian.

The jump ramps looked crazy tall to us! We noticed that they were adding Snow Summit logos to the side of the snow ramps. Before the filming started there would be more flags and stickers added from another sponsor--Oakley.

We talked to one of the workers here that said it looked like Shaun could end up in the chair lift if he missed his mark coming off these ramps.

We never got to see any of the filming, but we did see plenty of the nice runs at Snow Summit. We ski blue and green runs, but we decided that California's definitions are different that those we are used to on Colorado mountains. Because they groom all the trails daily, we didn't see any moguls all day. Those bumps of snow can make a blue ski run difficult. But the only thing difficult about these blue slopes were the icy ridges, and keeping our concentration with the beautiful views around us.

Snow Summit has chairlifts, but we found several weren't running on this low-usage weekday. But we still found plenty of runs to keep us busy. We loved the smell of pine as we skied down this green trail.

There are tall trees on this mountain, including this big guy at the top of one of the chair lifts. The elevation at the top of the mountain was 8,200 feet--quite a bit higher than the 900 feet desert we came from yesterday. It's a good thing that neither of us have altitude-sickness, because we certainly didn't give our bodies time to adjust to this new height.
There were plenty of ski jumps throughout the resort that were not as extreme as the ones prepared for Shaun White. We watched as the snow boarders got some air as they popped over the top.

Mark usually would have done some jumping, but we were skiing very carefully. Our daughter-in-law just had knee surgery after a snow ski injury last month. We were both thinking of her as we skied. So this is a picture of another daring jumper--not us.

We enjoyed our skiing at Snow Summit. With high temperatures in the 60's, the icy groomed snow turned into something softer that reminded us of new snow. Their process of grooming is working to stretch the early snowfalls into March skiing. There is dirt showing off the trails, but they still have all the trails open now.

There was never a line at the chair lift, and we suddenly realized we seemed to have the trails to ourselves too.

This picture proves just how empty the runs were by the afternoon. Denisa is that happy little speck on the trail, not having to worry about dodging any other skiers today.

With no lines and no traffic on the slopes, we had tried every run at least once by early afternoon. That's when we decided to try a spin on the sister ski slope at Bear Mountain resort. Our free lift ticket was good at both ski resorts. So we drove the 2 miles to Bear Mountain, and got to see a second California mountain! 

We had heard that Bear Mountain is popular with snowboarders, and we soon saw that many of their runs were littered with snow boarding jumps and slides. It was hard for a skier to find a way down some of the slopes. But this is the ski resort where the gold medal snowboarder Shaun White grew up, so they might understandably be partial to the boarders.

When we changed mountains, we left our gloves and jackets in the car. With no wind, and 60-degree sunshine, we certainly didn't need either.

Bear Mountain's mountain tops are a little taller than Snow Summit. But even at the peak, the snow was gone where they aren't grooming and making snow. So we had to take a picture of the bear alone on Bear Mountain because we couldn't ski over to him.

We found out that most of the lifts closed at 3 p.m. and we were really tired by that time anyway. So we made our final run to the bottom before our tired legs caused us to crash. We were blessed to be injury-free for the day, not counting Denisa's clumsy fall when she hit a rough spot.  She'll wear that bruise on her hip proudly, just glad that we won't have any hospital time from our day in the snow.

This was a great day of skiing, and we appreciate the free lift tickets that made it possible. We also could camp 36 miles from the slope, so our travel time was minimal. If we had rented our equipment at the resort and paid for our lift tickets, this day of fun would have cost us around $275. We think it was even more fun because we only spent $35! That's great California skiing!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Our Plan to Escape the Desert Heat

As we pulled out of our home for a week at Sky Valley Resort, we had to notice the beautiful yellow wildflowers that circled every creosote bush across the desert landscape. We had watched as this area sprung into spring next to the Joshua Tree National Park. Those flowers were enticed to bloom with the 90 degree heat we've had in the desert for the last several days. But we have a plan to escape this heat.

We will say good-bye to the snow-covered mountain that filled the entire motor home windshield as we rolled down the highway.

We are leaving the unseasonable heat of the Coachella Valley for higher elevations. That means driving up some relentless highway grades. This road is an example of one of those grades that tests the motors of trucks and motor homes. We were doing fine until we couldn't get around a struggling truck that got all the way down to 25 mph by the time we hit the top of the hill.

Our 89-mile trip today took us to Lone Wolf Campground in Apple Valley, California. While our last stop at Sky Valley was at 994 feet elevation, Apple Valley is over 4,000 feet in elevation. That higher altitude means temperatures are in the 70's instead of the 90's, so we were glad to spend some time outside at our new camp site. We didn't have a picnic table or a fire ring here. But we decided to cook up some interesting campground desserts. With the induction plate plugged into the basement, we are making a batch of crepes outside.

We bought some beautiful strawberries and blueberries at the last farmer's market. They made a great topping for a crepe filled with sweetened greek yogurt. We usually make smores outside at our campsites, but maybe we'll change our dessert of choice to crepes now.

With a name like Apple Valley, Denisa was pretty excited about our new home town. But we came to find that there are no apples in Apple Valley. There also doesn't seem to be any attractions to explore. But the main reason we have landed here is its proximity to the Bear Mountain Ski Resort. We had seen an advertisement on television that enticed customers to test drive a new Ford in exchange for a free lift ticket to one of California's ski resorts. Last week we visited the Palm Springs Ford dealership.

While waiting for our salesman, we found that California law requires additional labeling on all new vehicles. It includes a "Bumper Quality Label" on top, as well as the "Parts Content" information found on the bottom of the sticker. It was interesting to see this Ford was made of 25% U.S. parts, and 60% Mexican.

Our stop at Palm Springs was successful, and we came away with two free lift tickets, good at one of the participating ski resorts that Ford sponsors. We are excited about this opportunity to cool off in the snow after our hot desert week.

So we'll be up early in the morning for our trip to the snow--a great escape plan from the desert heat!