Patch of the Month: NPS Centennial

I didn’t earn this patch in the same way as I did most of those in this column. Nonetheless, having taken my family to visit over a dozen national parks in three years, and having hiked a few National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests, I figure I’d earned this anyway.

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Goodbye, Beignets

On the way back from Gaviota we pit-stopped at The Cajun Kitchen in Goleta for a breakfast mercifully devoid of windborne clay dust. We rewarded the scouts with beignets.

I tried one, enjoyed it, and decided that I would not feel deprived if it were my last. 

No aspersions on the Cajun Cafe: I have of late, but wherefore I know not, slid quietly into “eat-to-live” mode. Food has become fuel, not fun, and while I still appreciate good food, I don’t give it anywhere as much thought as I used to beyond ensuring that a) I won’t go hungry, and b) I become increasingly Kosher in my habits.

Boring? Maybe. But I don’t think the world will suffer for the lack of one more foodie, and it makes weight management much easier. In the end, I might even live longer.

Gaviota Dawn

Gaviota Beach and trestle bridge.


An early fall morning, just before dawn, and Gaviota Canyon is doing yeoman service as a wind tunnel. The Sundowner winds peculiar to this area are magnified by the narrow pass behind me and they’ve been rocking cars, pulling tent pegs, and making campfires impossible for the past 12 hours.

A fine grit pervades everything, and I wonder how long it will take me to clean up.

But two months (or more, I’ve lost track) of nonstop work, travel, and “drama, not otherwise specified” have made medicine of a couple of days plotzed in a campsite. The waves crash, the squirrels, ospreys, and Monarch butterflies go about their business, and they catch me up in their rhythm, allowing me to reset my tempo and reflect in a way I could not last weekend in a Chicago hotel room.

So I will take the grit. And as the sun rises, I start to see the path forward with unaccustomed clarity.

I reach for my boots. It is time to begin.

Pocket Gopher

In the topor of the afternoon, Mr. Gopher pops by, inviting himself to tea.

Our conversation is interrupted by the distant shriek from the osprey nest under the trestle, and Mr. Gopher decides that tea might be best taken underground. Without so much as a “good afternoon” he leaves us. 

I reach for my coffee, toast the now-deserted tunnel entrance, and marvel aloud how Camping turns “pests” into “wildlife.” Somewhere, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and perhaps even the Almighty himself may be nodding in agreement.

Patch of the Month: Saddleback

If the California desert continues to hold secrets, it is not because they are hidden, but because they are ignored. As we ease into fall, the thoughts of our Scout troop naturally turn inland and towards the desert.

October through March offers the best season to camp in the deserts. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.

One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites were mostly primitive, but there were toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.

We had originally planned to go in February of this year, but cancelled at the last minute. The winter had witnessed a parade of great storms roll through the state that effectively ended the long drought, but also spewed flash floods across the desert floors. Given that Saddleback was accessible only by roads susceptible to flash flooding, and that we were driving in at night, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rescheduled for March.

It was the right call. Sharing our gigantic site with another troop, we enjoyed the weekend immensely. I picked up this patch at the interpretive center at the northwest corner of the park after a short hike up from our campsite.

No doubt we will be back this way.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Sitting at Ventura Harbor on an early fall Friday afternoon, waiting for the boat from Santa Cruz Island and staring at my watch, I’m trying to display calm, but I’m thinking about how I have to:

  • pick up my Scout after a week of camping;
  • get him home, cleaned up and re-packed in about fifteen minutes flat;
  • get him back in the car;
  • pick up another scout and his gear;
  • drive them both though four hours of Friday night L.A. and Orange County traffic;
  • feed them;
  • get them to their campground and checked in;
  • feed myself;
  • find my hotel and check in;

and do all of that by midnight without falling asleep.

Here it is only 5:10pm, and I am already dozing off.

Yet I retain my outward calm. The sun is shining. The weather is nice. And I have 36 hours before I need to head to Chicago.