Pacific Ocean High

After eight months of mostly glorious Southwest desert, we finally landed near San Diego to begin our trek up the Pacific Coast. Not a moment too soon. (And I realize the John Denver song is about an elevated place, whereas the ocean is the namesake for sea level, but let’s go with the other meaning of high, here.)

Tracy and I have never been in the Pacific together (we’ve jumped waves several places, just not here). Therefore, I was last in this ocean in 1992, I believe. (My treat for finishing my thesis was a trip from Missoula down Highway 1, following a guy named Echo in his orange VW microbus, on our way to see the Grateful Dead in Las Vegas. Or was it Lake Tahoe? Or did I see the ocean later on a work trip? Or right after my sister died?) Whatever, certainly: the last time I’ve set foot in the Pacific was a lifetime ago, and being here now with the Airstream feels right.

County Campground

We’re in a campground newly added to the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, a 1,800-acre park right on the border with Mexico (seems to be our theme these days). Friends from Imperial Dam LTVA recommended it (thanks Shana and Marcus!), and it’s a pretty danged interesting.

The campground is laid out weird, with lots of yurts and play areas and some trailer parking all askew, but long ago we figured that many of the people who design campgrounds have never driven an RV or gone camping. That’s just a given.

And we’re back in the land of the Weekend Warrior campers, with running, crying children, the morning dog parade, and people determined to party it up no matter the weather or time of day since it’s their weekend away from home and work, so they’re gonna camp with all they’ve got, damnit. After our summer of boondocking mostly in Montana and winter in the desert, I’d forgotten about this campground culture. Time to ease back in!

What’s awesome here in this county campground is all that acreage. There are miles and miles of trails and wetlands and coastal scrub, all teeming with birds, and flowers (see below), and critters. A large coyote watched us walk Banjo when we first arrived. Sizing her up, I imagine—we haven’t see it since.

The icing, though, is the beach, just a bike-ride away.


I’ve said this the first time we hit the beach with the Airstream and I’ll say it again: we see a lot of this country, but we don’t spend as much time on the coast as you’d expect. We’re making up for it this spring though. With exclamation marks!

When Tracy handed me this sand dollar, I had a flash-back to 40 years ago. Did you know that teeny tiny miniature seagulls live inside sand dollars, and you can see them only when one breaks open by accident? You shake out the seagulls, then, and admire them. That’s what I thought when I was a kid at the beach on the East Coast.

This one wasn’t broken, and I wasn’t about to break it (because that kills all the teeny seagulls!).

This mollusk reminds me of the giant conch we found in a shell at the Keys last summer that crept out and then pulled back in so suddenly that Tracy dropped the shell. Slow, slow, slow, WHAM. This one’s not as dramatic but it sure is beautiful.


Here’s something I haven’t seen at any of the oceans I’ve been lucky to walk beside or swim/snorkel/scuba in. Tall strands of kelp just don’t grown everywhere, and they are super interesting to see washed up on the shore, with their pockets of air to keep them afloat up near the sunlight.

I’ve never seen kelp in person, but for a while I was having a recurring dream of swimming among kelp forests (and no, I was not a mermaid in those dreams: just me, swimming). The ocean was so dark, and the kelp so bright, and my long hair flowed out behind me weaving among the kelp just so.

So, what did I do? I asked my sister to dye my hair like kelp: a layer of green underneath, and then a layer of blue, with my then-dark hair on top, like the ocean water deep below the surface, so that you could see the colors only when I put my hair up, say in a French braid. That did the trick: no more recurring dreams.

And here I am, finally, seeing kelp! Maybe later in this trip I’ll swim with it.

Plants that Don’t Hurt You!

The path to the beach runs alongside scrub land just beginning to bloom. Perfect time of year.

These two were riding their own horses, unlike the dozens of folks we passed on paths or on the beach on horseback tours, plodding along. These two raced down the beach beside us so suddenly I didn’t get a photo, and then they pushed their horses as much as they’d gamely go into the ocean. Until the young woman looked up at me watching and laughed, and called out, ”I don’t want to fall in that cold water!” and she turned her horse away and went racing back up the beach.

Such enthusiasm. Pacific Ocean High!

5 thoughts to “Pacific Ocean High”

  1. These are great pics! I love the coastal scrub, a phrase I did not know and especially liked the sand dollar. I never heard your magical story about them, but knew it was very special to find a whole one!

    1. The seagulls are just bits of I guess skeleton inside the outer shell that fall apart in the shape of seagulls. I think that’s it – now I need to look that up!

    2. Turns out each sand dollar remnant has five of these bits, and they’re basically teeth that grind up the algea the urchin eats. For its five stomachs!