HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A new year, a fresh start, a time to put new inspirations into action, with a lot of help from family and friends! Resolutions? You might think I’m crazy, but mine is to embrace happiness… Not be happy, find the secret to happiness, or even put on a happy face everyday… Just embrace it. This is a huge 180 for me. All my life I have pondered the meaning of happiness and tried to harness it by working harder at becoming a better person. Constantly focusing on my flaws, I reason that if I can just change this or that about myself, I will be happy. Needless to say, this approach has failed and since I’m not getting any younger it’s time I stop recreating myself and just be me. Don’t laugh. It took me a long time to get here! And what I have discovered is that I am happy. I just didn’t know it!

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Here’s my story:

This Christmas the Kelly-O’Connell-Jernigan clan decided to buy a book for each other. My daughter-in-law, Jen, pulled my name and gave me a subscription to audiobooks since my RV lifestyle is all about less space and less things which create more “space that brings calm, reflection, and joy…” She also knows that I like to walk a lot. So, what a perfect fit! Walk and meditate. Walk and laugh. Walk and listen to a good book. And of course she shared some of her favorites.

So, I decided to practice walking and listening before I downloaded my first audiobook. I chose to listen to 2 TED Radio Hour broadcasts from NPR while I walked on one of my familiar routes, the Riverwalk. On the way out I listened to a podcast, Believers and Doubters, offering different perspectives on religion, faith, doctrines, and belief. On the way back I listened to Simply Happy hoping to find out what happiness really is. And that is when everything in my lived experiences came together!


Matt Killingsworth holds a Ph.D. in psychology and approaches happiness scientifically by studying and measuring it in real-time.

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He created a phone app, TrackYourHappiness.org, that will send you a text several times a day that you must answer immediately. The text are questions, such as:

  • On a scale between Very Bad and Very Good, how are you feeling right now?
  • What are you doing right now?
  • Do you have to do what you are doing right now?
  • Do you want to do what you are doing right now?
  • Are you thinking of something else than what you are doing?

So, he collects all this data and looks for patterns and variables and discovers that the 3 brightly highlighted questions are the most indicative of happiness. And, most importantly, the answer to the last question above holds the key to unlocking that door to our happy place. Killingsworth theorizes that when we are thinking about something else than what we are doing in any given moment, which he calls, mind wandering, we are less happy because we are usually thinking about unpleasant things.

Now, we can debate this simplified premise, but in my lived experiences this mind wandering pattern has ruled the greater part of my life. As a little girl I worried about dying and going to hell, failing tests, being too fat, not being good enough, making my mother get mad at me. As I grew older I continued filtering my experiences in such self-conscious negative ways. On the outside I looked happy. On the inside I felt unworthy. And yes, after years of hard work with mental health therapists, I now realize how my obsessive mind wandering caused so much unhappiness for me. I have learned to stay in the moment. Sometimes it is easy and trivial. Like today at the laundromat… I watched laundry wash, rinse, and spin through its cycles instead of wishing I was doing something more productive with my down time or being some place else. It was kind of a meditative experience. Other times I have to re-direct my thoughts. Like earlier today when I stood in line at the post office. I felt fat since I had just eaten and was full. All I could think about was my weight and I began to chastise myself for enjoying food so much. So, I mentally slapped myself out of my negative mind wandering and noticed the people around me. I started fabricating stories about their lives and why they were here in line with me. If being happy involves noticing where your attention is at any given moment, and recognizing when your mind wanders down dark alleys, and re-directing your mind to the present, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!


Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness, believes that we need to slow down since our culture is so marinated in speed that we are just hurrying through life instead of living life.

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Slow has negative connotations, such as being a slacker or being stupid. But speed takes its toll on our health, work, relationships, and happiness. We are living the fast life instead of the good life. Speed also builds a wall so that we don’t have to ask ourselves if we are happy or face our fears. For instance, you wake up in the middle of the night and find your mind pre-occupied with some problem or worry in your life. By sticking with the anxiety, we either find a solution or fall asleep to wake up with a resolution.

Honore talks about finding your inner tortoise. I prefer the suggestion to stop and smell the roses. My husband, Jeff, embodies this cliche and reminds me to appreciate whatever moment we are in. From star gazing to cloud watching to finding scenic treasures on hiking trails to noticing the subtle colors of nature outside our windows, Jeff and I share the moments that fill us with awe. Besides, our younger days of running have been replaced with walking and hiking. And driving a motorhome means covering less miles per day in the slow lane. If being happy involves slowing down and enjoying the moment, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!


Graham Hill is a visionary, entrepreneur, designer, and journalist who lives a life of minimalism and sustainability. As founder of LifeEdited.com and TreeHugger.com, he encompasses my “less is more” mantra.

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Long story, short: He made tons of money, bought tons of stuff, got rid of tons of stuff, and now lives in a 450 square foot apartment with tons of time to enjoy life. I can attest to that! Downsizing to an RV makes my life so much simpler and so less cluttered. As Hill points out, horizontal space collects disarray, while vertical space tames the temptation to collect a pile of anything. There’s not much horizontal room in an RV for accumulating piles of papers and junk as most surfaces have dual purposes, i.e., the table becomes a bed and the kitchen counters uncover the sink and stove.  If being happy involves owning less stuff, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!


Dan Gilbert is a Ph.D. psychologist, professor, and writer.

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He claims that our evolutionary pre-frontal cortex has tripled the size of our brains with its unique function as an experience simulator. This means we can have an experience in our head before trying it out in real life. Unfortunately, this simulator tends to not work so well due to what Gilbert refers to as impact bias which convinces us that different outcomes are more different than what they really are. Huh? This means that we expect the great lows in our life to have more impact on our happiness. But, it ain’t so! After just 3 months, in most cases, the negative impact on happiness is gone. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily get over the trauma. It just means we return to our baseline of happiness. Huh? We are hard wired to be happy. We have the ability to synthesize and re-frame our experiences into happiness. So, we have some input into controlling our happiness.


Again, mental health therapy has helped me to re-frame the biggest tragedy in my life, so far, and view it as a constructive and positive experience. It only took me 20 years to finally accomplish this! Yeah, it’s hard work and I’m a slow learner, but I am doing it, to my sons’ joy! If being happy involves re-framing negative experiences, then I already live this practice and embrace the happiness it brings me!


And who better personifies the embracement of happiness but children! These love-loves keep me smiling:

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This wall plaque from my brother sums it all up:

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And this song is my 2016 HAPPY new year anthem to you and yours, which I have danced to, twirled to, raised my arms to, and shaked my hips to while walking in Lake Elsinore, CA (really!):

Just wait patiently through the ads…

The Shoe Story Part Three

 If the Shoe Fits!

Within a few days we are back on the trails again. This time I put on 2 pairs of socks and as soon as I place my right foot inside of my boot, the outside of my big toe feels a small electrifying jolt. I adjust my socks and re-do the laces until the ah-ha moment arrives and my big piggy zones out shopping at the market.

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Today we hike the Bear Canyon Loop. The trailhead begins about 100 yards south of the Ortega Highway Candy Store.

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Speaking of candy, we discover, a package of edible cannibus as we start the trail.

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Medical marijuana is legal in California and can be purchased at a dispensary. But first one needs a doctor’s recommendation and proof of CA residency. For $75, more or less, you can register at a clinic, skype with a doctor, and, if approved, receive an annual physician’s statement which is a certified legal document allowing you to purchase and carry so many ounces of marijuana and/or cultivate a certain number of plants. The yellow hard candy we find contains 40 micrograms of marijuana which is a double dose and probably meant to be a now-and-later edible.

So, do we taste the hemptation temptation? No. We leave it in the trail registration box. We remember our parents’ warning from when we were little kids and choose to not take candy from a stranger.


The Bear Canyon Loop Trail begins on the Ortega Highway, meets up with the Morgan Trail, and continues to Four Corners. From here you can loop back or continue on several different trails for a longer hike.

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After a mile or so we meet up with the Morgan Trail. So far so good with my feet.

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We take the high road to the right for another mile or so. My feet are not talking back yet.

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We reach the trail marker for the  4 Corners loop.

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We continue on to 4 Corners which is the half-way point of our 6.5 mile hike. Honestly, I don’t know if my feet hurt or not. I am so focused on reaching 4 Corners that, come toes that wished they had stayed home or toes that wished they were more beefed up for hiking, I ignore all of my piggies and zero in on the destination.

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And we arrive at a clearing.

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There are several trail markers here:

North Tenaja Trail

North Tenaja Trail

Verdugo Trail to Oak Flats

Verdugo Trail to Oak Flats

Sitton Peak

Sitton Peak

We opt for the trail leading us back to the Ortega Highway. Just an FYI… Trail maps and information are difficult to find online. The Cleveland National Forest web site is part of fs.usda.gov. The trail descriptions are limited at best. The total mileage is often questionable.  The trail markers are confusing when hiking. 

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As soon as we head back I become aware of my aching feet. I try to ignore them by concentrating on taking pictures of the trail.

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At last we complete the 4 Corners loop and I tell my aching toes we only have 2+ miles to go.

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I think I can! I know I can! I have no choice!  So I dig my heels into the ground, with each step, to take the pressure off my toes. And I continue to take pictures to help me forget that my piggies are crying all the way home to the car!

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At last, the big rocks return and the end is in sight!

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Now, all I need to do is hobble across the Ortega Highway, get to the car, and get my hiking boots off!

My socks are bloody and the tops of my toes are blistered. Could anyone use a pair of slightly worn (just 2 times) Merrell hiking boots size 8.5? Let me know.


I order a new pair of boots on Amazon.com and now too tight is just right and too small is not at all.

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I test these out on the Chiquito Trail. Here’s a picture of Jeff basking in the joy of my happy hiking feet:

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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I know it’s been awhile since my last post. I’ve been knocked down with a bad cold playing havoc with my congested sinuses and ears. I flew to Columbus, OH to visit family and came back with a souvenir of Day Care germs from my grandson, Oliver. It doesn’t take long for the immune system to lose its mojo! So, I will resume where I left off…

It’s 70 degrees outside on January 12th. The sun shines through clear blue skies… a perfect day to take you to my favorite places in Lake Elsinore!

First of all, here is where we live.

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Our site is awesome. We live on the end of the road beside and under pecan trees.

I also have an indoor and outdoor nature collection. The centerpiece on our picnic table is nature made with my glue gun.

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Debi and Dennis from New Mexico are parked behind us. So far we are the minority of non-Californian residents. The Flannigans from Mississippi left the first of the year. New neighbors from Arizona just moved in across the street. The lake is at the end of our street. Jeff takes the dogs for a morning and evening walk along its shores. Sometimes I accompany them.

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Once a week, give or take a few days, we wash our clothes at one of the local lavanderias, Suds-R-Us.

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I enjoy my laundry outing. It takes a little over an hour to wash, dry, and fold all our clothes. Sometimes I get the 2 washing machines going and drive over to Java Hut and order a hot chai tea latte with espresso and no whipped cream. Yum!

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Java (the) Hut is a drive thru or walk up coffee shop. Customers get a card and after 10 orders the 11th drink is on the house. Tuesday is double punch day, so one carry-out equals 2 orders on your card. They even have toasted “everything” bagels served with cream cheese! Now, that makes laundry day absolutely delicious!

Sometimes I vacuum out the car and wipe down the inside while the clothes wash. Then, when the clothes are in the dryer, I return to take the car through the automated wash.

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For 6-8 dollars most of the bird poop is removed! Oh, did I not mention that we live under a pecan tree? And pecan trees mean birds, in our case crows, and birds mean poop all over the car!

The end of our street is lined with pecan trees too.

The end of our street is lined with pecan trees too.

Of course, right now, the trees no longer have leaves.

Our noisy neighbors, the crows

Our noisy neighbors, the crows

But for all of us who buy shelled pecans in the grocery store, this is the real nut, unshelled from the tree…

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Everyday local folks bring sacks to scavenge for pecans along Riverside Drive, just across the fence from us.

Speaking of grocery stores, Albertson’s is where we shop. The prices are higher than in Cincinnati, unfortunately. The nearest Krogers affiliated store is in Murietta, about a 35 minute drive away.

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Liquor stores are also prevalent out West. My fav wine-run store has no name. But since this store has been broken into twice now, I am a loyal wine customer of this Russian lady’s business. (We don’t know if her accent is Russian or not, but we like her!)

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Another icon business here is Vista Donuts.

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They’ve been around for over 20 years. The store opens at 3 AM everyday and the homemade donuts are delicious! They also prepare a hearty ham and cheese croissant which I have yet to try. Another “must try” is their Milk Green Tea Boba.

My favorite local walk starts outside of our RV along Riverside Drive and up Lincoln Street past Machado Street and Grand Avenue. I take this route till it dead ends and then I turn around and walk back. Lincoln Street is all uphill north of Machado and provides a good walking workout!

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A hidden treasure of a walking workout with incredible views of Lake Elsinore is the steps connecting Lincoln Street to McVicker Canyon Park Road. This up and down calf and hamstring screaming hike runs parallel to Sunswept Drive.

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So… this is where we are hunkering down for the winter months! When Spring rounds the corner we plan to head East to visit family and friends.

Life’s a Beach… Doheny State Park

image The Pacific Ocean is less than an hour’s car drive away. After crossing from Riverside County into Orange County via the 28 mile Ortega Highway mountain pass and traveling through San Juan Capistrano,

 

Doheny State Beach is only  3 miles away. Oil tycoon, Edward L. Doheny, donated this beach property for public use in 1931. This was California’s very first state beach. In 1963 the beach received its official name. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Jeff and I first visited the ocean with our dogs on November 3, 2015.

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We returned by ourselves on January 12, 2016, a warm and sun sparkled day. Surfers practiced their wave maneuvers, paddle boarders skimmed the surface of the ocean, and beachcombers, like us, found interesting stones and shells carried to and fro by the waves.

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What a wonderful day, mesmerized by the sound of the water, the fresh sea smells, the sight of sparkling blue ocean interrupted by frothy white waves, and the feel of the strong receding waves pulling my flip flops off my feet! We romped, played, explored, and enjoyed!

Life’s a Beach… Crystal Cove

image Between these 2 visits to Doheny State Beach, Jeff and I met up with my son, John, at the beachfront of Crystal Cove.

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Crystal Cove is actually a state park located in Newport Beach just north of Laguna Beach. It stretches for 3 beautiful miles along the Pacific coastline consisting of inland chaparral, cliffs, canyons, bluffs, tide pools, and a historic district of beach houses. The park was established in 1979. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

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Native Americans were the first settlers of this area. Their villages were built around 2 natural springs. With the arrival of Spanish missionaries, however, the tribes were escorted to the nearby Missions of San Gabriel and San Juan Capistrano. In 1864, James Irvine, an Irish immigrant who migrated West during the California Gold Rush to become a miner and merchant, purchased the land of the San Juan Capistrano Mission. By then the Mission was known as Rancho San Joaquin and was in debt. Thus, a perfect time for Irvine and 3 other ranchers to invest in the land to raise sheep and sell wool. By 1876 a drought and an increasingly competitive marketplace destroyed their investment. Irvine, however, bought out his 3 partners and his son, James Irvine II inherited tha property and leased the land to agriculturally diverse farmers, forming the Irvine Company in 1894. James II was a real estate tycoon but the Crystal Cove area was his favorite spot. He allowed family, friends, and employees to build beach cottages here. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

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daytrippen.com

As these cottages underwent renovations and became more permanent residences, their owners had to choose to either move the cottages elsewhere or hand over ownership so the Irvine Company could lease them. The leased cottages became Crystal Cove. Today there are 46 restored beach cottages, built in the 1920s and 1930s, available for rent. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

One of the cottages available to rent is from Bette Midler’s movie, Beaches.

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Historic cottage number 15 became the Beachcomber Restaurant in 2006, 5 years after the last permanent residents were asked to move out by the state of California. The cottage was built in 1931 and was once nicknamed the whistle stop. An early resident, a train engineer, built model trains popular with the children in the area. (daytrippen.com)

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Artist Vivian Falzetti also resided in cottage 15. She used the blue cottage across the way, number 46, as her art studio. (daytrippen.com)

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Crystal Cove continues to attract landscape painters. Early on, this area inspired plein air artists. Plein air is a type of natural light landscape painting technique originating in France. To commemorate this movement, one of the available cottages to rent is named, “Painter’s Cottage.”

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The above image is from crystalcovebeachcottages.com

Many movie companies have used Crystal Cove as a stand-in for tropical locations such as Hawaii and Polynesia. Palm trees planted for some of these sets remain here today. (ocregister.com)

But we are not here to paint or film a movie. We are here to enjoy, eat, and drink. In my case I will easily suck down 2 spicy Bloody Mary cocktails! (John brought me here in December of 2013 when I came out to visit Kelly-O’Connell Land when he and Amanda were living in Laguna Beach, before they were married. It was then that I fell in love with a bloody good Bloody Mary!)

The easiest way to access the Beachcomber Restaurant, the historic district, and the beach is to park in the Los Trancos parking lot on the east side of the Pacific Coast Highway. From here there is a footpath leading to a tunnel that crosses under the highway and onto the beachfront.

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A few hundred feet more… Wait for it… Ahhhh…

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Highway to the Sea… The Ortega Hwy Part 1

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We live within 2 miles of one of California’s most dangerous but convenient highway routes, the 28 mile stretch of State Route 74 through the Santa Ana Mountains that connects Lake Elsinore in Riverside County to San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. Continue west for 3 more miles to reach the Pacific Ocean.

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This highway started as footpaths by the original Native American settlers and fire trails. According to historian Evaline Morrison, valley ranchers from Lake Elsinore began the process of widening the fire trails using only horse teams, slip scrapers, wheel barrows, and shovels in 1917. After the State of California granted permission for 2 counties to work together to build a road through the mountains, the official construction of the Ortega Highway began in June 1929 in San Juan Capistrano. In August 1933 the overpass was completed and dedication ceremonies were held in Lake Elsinore. (theortegahighway.com)

The namesake of the highway is Spanish explorer Don Jose Francisco Ortega who was a part of the 1769 Portola Expedition. This journey was the first attempt to enter the interior of California. Up until now only the coastline had been scouted. (en.m.wikipedia.org) Jose Francisco Ortega also helped found the San Juan Mission. (theortegahighway.com)

So, let’s turn right off of Grand Avenue and experience the Ortega Highway!

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Up we go…

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After crossing several switchbacks the Lookout Roadhouse appears on top of the ridge overlooking the mountains and lake. Open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, this friendly place serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No, we haven’t stopped here yet, but it is on our Lake Elsinore “bucket list” before we leave this area and travel back to Ohio for my grandson Oliver’s first birthday.

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The northernmost area of the Cleveland National Forest consists of the Santa Ana Mountains and is bisected by the Ortega Highway. President Theodore Roosevelt created the forest and named it after former president Grover Cleveland. Besides an incredible vista of boulders, the CNF consists of schrubland and plant communities along the banks of streams. The climate here is characterized by hot dry summers and mild to wet winters.  (en.m.wikipedia.org) All of my hiking posts so far, San Juan Loop, Morgan Trail, Chiquito Loop, and Bear Canyon are about trails in the CNF. Jeff and I also hiked the Bluejay Trail.

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Does anyone else remember Smoky the Bear from their youth? He is still alive and well in California!

Coming up is El Cariso Village, a very small community that is not governed by its own  local body. I’m not sure who is responsible for this unincorporated village within the CNF.

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I think it’s cool that today’s population is only 250!

El Cariso is believed to be the hideout of Juan Flores of the Flores Daniel Gang. The area of mountain meadows provided the perfect shelter for stolen horses from Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. In 1857 this site may also have been the location of a shootout between this gang and a posse from Temecula and Los Angeles. Most of the gang was either killed or captured. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Just beyond El Cariso is Hell’s Kitchen, a motor sports restaurant located among the hills and trees of the Ortega Highway, according to its web site.

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Owned by a Willow Springs racer, the restaurant opened and tapped its first kegs on January 31, 2004. The name came from the rough and tumble borough in New York City known for its melting pot of various cultures and now known as the area where the most firemen lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy. Come hungry for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Open at 9:00 am on the weekend and 10:00 am during the week, the restaurant closes at 6ish everyday, and is another item on our Lake Elsinore “bucket list.” (hellskitchen-ca.com)

The sign outside of the restaurant:

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Across from Hell’s Kitchen is the Country Store known for its beef, venison, and buffalo jerky… Yet another Lake Elsinore “bucket list” item.

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Highway to the Sea… The Ortega Hwy Part 2

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Just beyond  El Cariso Village is the turn off for Hot Shots. One day we took the road expecting to find a scenic overlook or an interesting venue. Not finding anything but construction equipment, I did a little research and discovered that hot shots pertain to fire fighting.

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A hotshot crew consists of 20 career and temporary firefighters specifically trained to suppress wildfires by constructing fire lines, working with aerial firefighting aircraft, and extinguishing flames and high heat areas in order to protect natural resources and populations living on wild land borders. These crews are trained and equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time. The history of hotshots goes back to the 1940s in Southern California’s Cleveland and Angeles National Forests. The term comes from the firefighters being assigned to the hottest parts of a wildfire. (en.m.wikipedia.org) According to wildfiretoday.com, the El Cariso Hotshots disbanded in September of 2013.

The Ortega Highway is peppered with spectacular views of rocky mountainsides. Hiking affords a close up and personal encounter with these large, round, white granodiorite boulders. (academics.ivc.edu) Granodiorite rock is similar to granite but contains more plagioclase feldspar than orthoclase feldspar. (en.m.wikipedia.org) I don’t understand what any of this means but you will have to trust that this is the briefest explanation I could find to attempt to identify these plentiful species of rock matter.

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After crossing a narrow bridge, the San Juan Loop Trail parking lot appears on the right. The loop trail is about a 2 mile hike, enough to wear out our dogs. Midway the Chiquito Trail intersects and continues on for another 8 miles or so to the Bluejay Trail. Jeff and I hiked from the Bluejay Campground until we came to a fork in the road with an ambiguous sign pointing to the Chiquito Trail leading in 2 different directions. Where can you buy trail maps around here?

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Across the street from the parking lot is the Ortega Oaks Mobile Home and RV Park which had no vacancies when we arrived in the area on October 31, 2015. In hindsight we are happier at Lake Elsinore Marina than having to navigate an RV and car on a tow dolly over the Ortega Highway.

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Next to Ortega Oaks is their famous Candy Store.

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The Candy Store features nostalgic candies that baby boomers grew up with along with new twists on the old, such as chocolate-covered gummy bears. Delicious homemade goods include pumpkin roll, brittles, chocolates, and over a dozen flavored of fudge. Made-to-order sandwiches, fresh baked pies, cheesecake, specialty cakes, and soups on rainy and cold days round out the menu. (the74candystore.com) Open 7 days a week, snacks, sodas, bottled water, coffee, cookies, unique gifts, and some general store items are available to purchase. (ortegaoaks.com)

Just beyond the candy store is the Bear Canyon Trailhead, a 6+ mile hike we hiked twice, once together and again with my son, John, and his father-in-law, Tim O’Connell. This trail connects with the Morgan Trail and upon reaching 4 Corners, intersects with several other hiking trails.

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Hold on now as we twist and curve through the mountains with the wind whistling and echoing along every turn.

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