Mountain Valley Retreat…Launching!

Here I go, ready or not! Launching the new website for Mountain Valley
Retreat! Let me know what works for you and what does not…I will greatly appreciate all feedback.

Back in the Saddle Again

I returned yesterday from a week-long visit to my parents in Spearfish, South Dakota. The occasion was my mother’s 89th birthday. It was great to see my aging parents handling the process with a high level of grace and ease…but not without challenges for us all.
My brother and sister-in-law, Gregg and Jo, childhood pals Duane and John and their crew, lifelong family friends Phyllis, Tim, Lloyd and Margaret, niece Tracy and her family and “like a sister” Tammi were all part of the week-long event.
The Black Hills were turning to gold as the aspen and birch trees took on their fall colors and we ended the week with a day-long ride through the hills to and from Crazy Horse Memorial where we participated in a 6.2 mile Volksmarch.
I am in the adjusting phase of returning home and committing (once again) to posting a daily page. Today’s post is ending here with photos from the last day of our trip.  The photos are “granite eye” on Needles Highway.  Crazy Horse Memorial.  Deadwood main street.  Galena historic cabin.  Tunnel on Needles Highway.  Vista from Mt. Mariah, Deadwood.  Crazy Horse Memorial.  George and Gregg cross the finish line.  Gregg, Tracy, Chery and George begin the Volksmarch.

eye of needlecrazy horse memorialDeadwood Main StreetGalena housetunnelNeedles HwyIMG_4631 IMG_4649IMG_4625


black panther at sunsetThe backcountry of San Diego County is a fascinating place to live. Although the Los Angeles metropolis is only a two-hour drive and we reach the outskirts of San Diego in an hour, the backcountry is surprisingly wild with over 600,000 acres of National Park lands.
The climate in North County, classified as Mediterranean, has thousands of acres of wine grapes lining the domesticated hillsides. One of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, the area has palms in the desert and redwoods on the mountain tops. The shores of the Pacific Ocean as well as many rivers, lakes and streams satisfy the need for water and healing hot springs bubble up from the fault lines that trace their way along the coast.
I live in a live-oak valley with granite boulders, chaparral and sage covering the foothills between two mountains that are home to huge oaks, pines and redwoods.
The wildness of our land came to my attention yesterday morning. In the early morning hours, my neighbor heard her dog barking and went outside to investigate. She rounded the corner of her house to see a black mountain lion standing beside her barn. It saw her and ran with her eight-pound terrier, Shadow, in ridiculous pursuit. She described the mountain lion as ‘long, lean and sleek black with a very long tail.” It bounded away, easily outdistanced her pup within seconds…a “black panther…wow!
I googled information about the big cats in southern California. Throughout it’s history the mountain lion has been known by many names: cougar, puma, panther and catamount. Indeed prolific, their color ranges from light tan to black, although black mountain lions are extremely rare. Considered ambush predators, they hunt live game, pouncing on their prey in ambush style and killing with a bite to the neck. In Shamanic tradition, wisdom is taken from signs of nature.  Mountain Lion represents power, leadership, strength, courage, foresight and decisiveness.
My builders are locals who have lived here all their lives and when they arrived this morning I told them Kay’s story. Randy told me he has had three mountain lion sightings in his life and one was black. He saw the cougar crossing the road about five miles east of my house three years ago as he was driving up the grade through Anza Borrego State Park from Borrego Springs.
Was the black panther that Kay saw the same animal? Considering their rarity, it is very likely. They range 50 to 100 square miles and life expectancy is typically 8-13 years. It is more than possible that Randy and Kay saw the same black mountain lion.
About two months ago, a feral cat showed up in our yard and we started feeding it. It is a large male cat, perhaps weighing fifteen to twenty pounds. It is sleek and all black with piercing yellow eyes. It comes to our deck twice a day to eat and although learning to trust, still does not allow us too close.
The first day I saw it slinking through the trees at the border of our property I was struck by its appearance and named it “Panther.”
If we lived in the Twilight Zone, I would know that the cat Kay and Randy saw is “Panther”, in his shape-shifted body he takes on to prowl the woods at night…

Hot Springs Peak

Today is the last day of May. Summer is on the next page! Just the word, summer, brings up the feeling of freedom, a pattern formed in my early childhood when summer signified the holiday from school. Day after day for three months I could sleep late in the morning, living out a whimsical day of play with my neighborhood friends, creating our own circuses, lemonade stands, building tipis and playing Indians, never coming inside except to find something to eat, until the moon was high in the night sky and bats were flying around the streetlights. Only then would I surrender to the urge to sleep, crawling under the covers with a flashlight and a book and reading past midnight when my eyes would stay open no more.

Yesterday felt like the summer days of my later childhood and teens. I moved beyond the few blocks of my neighborhood, discovering what lay beyond the boundaries of our small western town. Summer became the time to ride horses on the trails in the forests, to hike and explore the hills and canyons, to water ski at the nearby lake, and to spend afternoons swimming at the community pool, trying to impress the boys as I perfected my jackknife dive.

hot springs peak hot springs peak view Hot Springs trees

My house, at 4000 feet, is a ten minute drive from Hot Springs Mountain, which at 6533 feet is the highest point in San Diego County. This mountain is in the middle of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, which borders the Cleveland National Forest and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Yesterday G, Joel and I drove the 4-wheel trail that winds up the mountain to an old fire look-out at the peak. There we hiked the huge rock outcrops that push out of one side of the peak. The wild flower bloom is at its best and we enjoyed all colors of the rainbow. The pink manzanita was especially magnificent. From our high vantage point we could see the Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico in the south, the great Salton Sea and desert to the east and nothing but green to the north. The trees included huge evergreens: pine, spruce, fir and redwoods and blooming manzanita. The sage, chaparral, creosote and many varieties of cactus and desert plants that we are familiar with at our lower elevation were sparse. The only wildlife we spotted was squirrels and lizards but birds were plentiful. Big raptors soared on the ridge lift rising from the sides of the mountain. A white sailplane circled the peak as we sat enjoying the spectacular view. The temperature was a perfect 75 degrees F.


Hiking with friends in the evergreens brought back that feeling of summers in the Black Hills. The wind whistling through the pines is a sound that is music to my ears. The smell of tree sap, the camaraderie of friends, the dust of the trail, the warm summer sun…these elements of my experience transported me back through time and I danced again along that neural pathway that was deeply grooved into my brain so many years ago.

Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

It is a blustery, sunny day with feathery clouds filling the huge expanse of sky as we drive up Los Coyotes road toward Hot Springs Peak. I parked the car off the road on the span of dirt between the barbed wire fence and asphalt.
With my baseball cap and sunglasses for sun protection and jeans and hiking boots to protect my legs from injury, I am traveling light. Lip gloss, iPhone and a bottle of water are tucked in the pockets of my wind breaker. The trail is lined with jumping choya and other spiny cactus and the possibility of meeting a rattlesnake is always a consideration.
Fran and Gary arrived yesterday. They are my buds from Wyoming. Two years ago we explored Peru together and I am so happy to be able to share a little of my hood with them. Joel drove down from L.A. this morning. Joel lives in Naples and just spent the weekend camping in Zion. We are close friends who live far and look forward to these opportunities to share time together.
We climbed through the fence and walked the jeep trail towards the rock outcropping known as Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock is on Warner Ranch land now owned by Vista Water Co. The Pacific Crest Trail passes just to the south of it. This natural rock formation is so realistically detailed some have doubted that its artist is Nature. The Indian tribes who were here long before the white man moved in have treated this land as sacred. Nature doesn’t create such magnificence by accident.Eagle rock 2eagle rock
Sitting on the rocks that surround and protect the Eagle, the view is impressive. To the north, it appears we are almost eye level with Hot Springs Peak, the highest point in San Diego County. The mountain tops are green, covered in manzanita, creosote, and live oak trees. Looking south, the Observatory at the top of Mt Palomar, is barely visible through the hazy sky. I’m not sure of the source of the haze. We have had some fires lately. A “controlled” burn got out of control last week burning nearly 3000 acres less than ten miles from my home. Perhaps it is a distant fire burning or maybe just the moisture coming up from the ocean that is creating the hazy skies to the northwest.
Looking more to the west, Lake Henshaw and the dam are visible and the great valley that lies between the lake and us. The feeling of spaciousness has a good feeling for me…as if my chest can expand larger and each breath comes in full and deep. The trail heads off in this direction going down through Warner Springs and on towards its northernmost end point at the Canadian border.
I look to the southeast. The PCT is a 2,650 mile trek between Mexico and Canada, passing through California’s deserts and high sierras. Today we are going take a short jaunt heading southeast from Eagle Rock toward my house which sits just a mile off trail at the 101.2 mile marker. My goal is to walk into the manzanita forest I know lies just across this stretch of ranch land where the trail heads down into the oak groves that mark the valley I live in.
The wind almost takes my hat and the temperature soon has me tying my wind breaker around my waist. The trail is narrow and dusty. The rocks always attract my attention. I notice the beautiful colors and sparkle of composite granite, quartz and other shiny minerals that are strewn along the path. In less than thirty minutes we reach the first of the manzanita.manzanita1 manzanita2
For the next half hour we wind though a magical forest of these amazing trees. We pause to spend time marveling at one large specimen. The orange bark curls away from grey that appears to be dead. It is as if the tree builds new life on top of old dead wood. The tiny fruits that hang from the branches are super sticky. The wood of this tree is so hard it is used for parrot perches. Parrots can crack walnuts so a perch that they can’t destroy has got to be tough.
As we walk along, enjoying the desert plants, feathery clouds, and deep solitude of the back country, we spot our first critter. A tiny horny desert toad is in the path. He seems chameleon-like as he blends in with either rock or plant, shadow or sunlight, wherever he parks himself. Unafraid of our close inspection he lies perfectly still as we angle our cameras in attempts to capture an image of him.horned toad
He was the first of four siting’s of his kind in the next few minutes. We wondered what his message to us might be…be still and be safe? Blend and become one with your environment?
Too soon we reached a rim, dropping down into a valley of oaks. At this point we decided to turn around and head back. A brief two-hour walk on the PCT was a delightful way to spend the afternoon and made me hungry for more. I am planning to take a day soon and walk the five miles of trail between my house and Eagle Rock. I was just getting my stride and the solitude, the slow pace and the sunshine are calling me back.Eagle rock approach


PascalJimmy and DaisyA man and two donkeys walked through my gate
He has chosen a path home to himself
It takes him to far corners of the earth
Into the harsh elements of nature

Some might call his expedition insane
Failing to grasp the depth of his searching
I see his dedication as valor
I am inspired by his devotion

He is a man on of mission of deep inner exploration
Each day a challenge to meet who he is
Alone with Mind and two donkey’s
To share his experiences with.

He has met the challenge of Ocean
Crossing in a sailboat from Panama to Tahiti
5000 miles of nothing but water and weather
Followed by months of living with the people of the islands.

Crossed Canada in a 400 lb. four-man canoe
Testing his strength and resolve
Nature again providing her challenges
Cold, snow, mud, wind, rough lake waters…all.

And now this journey of 15000 miles, LongEars2Chile,
Walking from Mexico to Oregon on the PCT
East on the Oregon Trail to the Continental Divide
South down the divide to Chile, SA.

Pascal, this fine French man who graced our table
Has claimed a new way of life,
Not merely an adventure.
A lifelong journey of self-discovery.

Meeting the challenges of each new day
With patience, gratitude and a smile
He slowly but surely
Is finding his way home.

The Old Man and the Young Woman

Pacific Crest Trail logo

“Those are some Keen boots you have there,”
The old man said.
“The better to climb mountains with,”
The young woman replied.

“Does that tent pole double as a hiking stick?”
He continued.
“One less thing to carry,”
She explained.

“I’ve never seen such a small, strangely shaped tent,”
He walked around and stared.
“It protects me from the elements,
while I’m sleeping in the wild.”

“What is that balloon-animal-thing
lying on the ground?”
“Why, that’s my air mat with spaces
for sleeping bag loft to keep me warm.”

“Where are you going with that pack-
full of equipment on your back?”
“I’m walking from Mexico to Canada
On the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“Why would anyone do such a trek?
Wouldn’t you rather stay home and watch TV?”
“I’m an adventure seeker.
I like the feeling of testing my body and mind.”

“Well good luck to you then, My Dear.
God Speed and I’ll see you in four months.”
“Thank you for that kindness.
When I reach Canada, I may just walk on to Alaska.”